Serious questions need to be asked about America’s suitability to host any international sporting event after the US authorities denied entry to a well-known Palestinian-born marathon runner in the wake of its blanket visa bans on numerous Muslim countries, even though he was granted asylum and now lives in France. In the absence of a satisfactory reason for destroying the dreams of the young Palestinian athlete seeking to complete in the world’s major marathon events, the only conclusion observers can draw for this latest ban is the growing racism and Islamophobia in Donald Trump’s America.
Mohammad Alqadi, 27, from the historic occupied West Bank town of Jenin, moved to France five years ago. Living in Europe enabled him to pursue his sporting career free from the constraints imposed by Israel’s brutal occupation which have crushed many young Palestinians’ sporting and academic ambitions because of their inability to travel, compete against the best in the world and develop their skills overseas. That Alqadi is experiencing similar obstruction from the Trump administration calls into question America’s ability to host any sort of international sporting or even cultural event.
Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen were named in the US President’s banned list shortly after he took office. Visa applications from those countries have now fallen by 44 per cent this year when compared with State Department data from 2016.
Statistics reveal a similar drop in tourist visas given to people with Palestinian Authority travel documents since Trump’s so-called Muslim ban was announced. The President first tried to introduce a 90-day travel ban for the six Muslim countries, which at one point also included Iraq, but the ban was challenged by US courts.
In March, a revised version of the ban was presented, and in June the US Supreme Court approved a limited version of it, which allowed for the rejection of visas for people from the banned countries in the absence of them producing “bona fide” ties to the US. Undeterred, Trump recently introduced a further ban to restrict visitors from Iran, Libya, Syria, Yemen, Somalia, Chad and North Korea.
Not content with that, Trump took to Twitter saying that he believed that the ban should be even wider: “The travel ban into the United States should be far larger, tougher and more specific-but stupidly, that would not be politically correct!” It seems that Palestinians are also on the list but to say so explicitly would then be seen as American recognition of Palestine’s right to statehood.
However, decisions based on what many say is religion and skin colour affect not only the young West Bank athlete Alqadi but also millions of others who want to travel to the US to compete in athletic and other sporting competitions, as well as take up university places and scholarships. Despite Trump’s ban, the US still sees itself as an ideal host for international events; Reno — the home of America’s latest serial killer, Stephen Paddock, 64, who slaughtered 58 innocents and wounded more than 500 others in Las Vegas before turning his gun on himself — is one of three cities bidding to host the Winter Olympics in 2026 or 2030.
Los Angeles has already been chosen to host the 2028 Summer Games. It is not inconceivable that Jenin’s Mohammed Alqadi might want to compete there, even though he will be 38 by then; that’s still comparatively young for marathon running. Mebrahtom Keflezighi became the oldest US Olympic runner in history when he competed in the marathon in the Rio de Janeiro Games aged 41. Unlike the young Palestinian, Keflezighi will compete in the New York Marathon on 5 November before bowing out of the sport for good.
However, with his dreams already crushed by the Trump administration, it’s hard to know what Alqadi’s thoughts are about his long-term future. He has used his time in France to study the culinary arts and is now a chef with residency status and his own apartment, although he has never lost his desire to be a long-distance runner.
In the past two years, he has run nine marathons across the world, but his plan was to finish the ultimate series for marathon runners by entering the World Marathon Majors, which includes the London, Tokyo, Berlin, New York, Boston and Chicago races. Having been refused a US visa he will no longer be able to compete in the latter big three, or any other American marathon.
“They’ve really ruined this dream by stopping me from having the chance to run in the US,” Alqadi told Mondoweiss in a telephone interview from his home in France. He revealed that after going to the US Embassy in August he was told that he had been approved for a three month visa. It was only after booking hotels and flights that his passport was returned from the embassy with a visa rejection slip inside.
“When I read the paper and saw that it said I was not eligible, I was shocked,” he explained. “I had paid for everything already, and at the last moment everything was destroyed.” The rejection advice said Alqadi was “not able to demonstrate that he has a residence in a foreign country which he has no intention of abandoning.”
Bearing in mind this sort of ambiguous ruling could apply to virtually all athletes from around the world — which visitor to the US can actually prove that they intend to go home? — it is time for the US authorities to be put on the spot by the CEO of the United States Olympic Committee, Scott Blackmun. If thousands of other sporting hopefuls like Alqadi face visa rejection letters, then America can no longer be regarded as a suitable venue to host international events.
Furthermore, after retired white man Paddock assured his place in the history books by becoming America’s deadliest mass shooter in modern history following the Las Vegas massacre, can America really guarantee the safety of anyone these days, let alone overseas visitors? This should be on the agenda of the International Olympic Committee as it meets this week, and every other meeting until such time that the US gets its racist act together and decides whether it wants to stay on its isolationist track, or re-enter the community of nations by hosting athletes from all competing nations regardless of their race, religion or ethnicity.