CrossFit Games

Breaking: CrossFit Briefs International Games Athletes on Travel Restrictions, Announces No Backfills for COVID Restrictions

June 28, 2021 by
Credit: Sam Stewart (instagram.com/sam.stewart/)
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On Monday evening, the CrossFit Games sent an email to International Games qualifiers providing some information about travel restrictions and options for travel to the US.

The details: In the email, CrossFit noted that: “On January 25, 2021, the US extended and expanded restrictions prohibiting individuals who were physically present in the Schengen Area, the United Kingdom, the Republic of Ireland, Brazil, or South Africa in the prior 14 days from being admitted to the United States.” 

  • “Those restrictions cover roughly one in five athletes qualifying for the Games across all divisions. If any of those individuals or teams are unable to attend the Games, CrossFit does not plan to backfill those qualifying slots.”

The last sentence above is critical — “CrossFit does not plan to backfill those qualifying slots.”

What is CrossFit doing to help: According to the email, CrossFit has “has petitioned the US Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to provide those athletes and their designated support person with a National Interest Exemption (NIE) that would allow them to travel to the United States.”

  • The email continues: “Unfortunately, despite extensive high-level outreach efforts, including direct communication with DHS Secretary Mayorkas and his staff, CrossFit has received neither guidance on the status of  the waiver application process nor assurances they will be granted in time for athletes to travel to the Games.”
  • “We are continuing our aggressive daily outreach to senior DHS officers and other elected officials to attempt to expedite the DHS review and approval of NIE exemptions, but we cannot guarantee that they will provide such approvals prior to the start of the Games.”

Other options: A far less convenient and certainly more expensive option is that, because the US restrictions only cover individuals who have been physically present in the restricted countries during the prior 14 days, it is possible to travel to and stay in a non-restricted country for at least 14 days and then enter the US restriction-free.

  • From the email: “For example, an athlete from a restricted country could travel to Mexico, Panama, the Caribbean, or another convenient travel hub without restrictions, so long as they spend at least 14 days in that destination before booking a subsequent flight to the United States.”  
  • CrossFit has asked that athletes who plan to travel through an intermediary country email [email protected] so that they can assist and track travel plans, as needed.

What they’re saying: Snorri Barón, an Icelandic CrossFit Manager to a dozen CrossFit athletes, said, between individual and team, there are currently 58 qualifying athletes that are trying to figure out how to get into the United States for the Games.

  • “Most of us just quietly hoped that once the Semifinals would be done then the travel restrictions would have been lifted. Most of the athletes have already been vaccinated or are in the midst of that process, so we presume that it will not have to be a factor,” said Barón.
  • “Those who have contacted the U.S. embassy in their respective countries have all received the same vague answers that no timeline for any further info on this has been made.”

One athlete in particular facing travel challenges is Irish CrossFitter Sam Stewart. He qualified for the Games by placing fourth at the Lowlands Throwdown Semifinal.

  • “I am training as if everything is going ahead of course, but it’s definitely stressful and not ideal when you want to solely focus on training,” said Stewart.
  • There is, however, a Plan B. But it comes with a big price tag and is not ideal for optimal training and living conditions going into the biggest competition of your sport.
  • “Otherwise, looks like we would have to travel to Dubai or Mexico for two weeks (for a 14-day mandatory quarantine), then head into the U.S. on a Visa. Obviously, this is expensive and not ideal preparation and training for the Games.

Stewart said if he has to go with Plan B, travel and accommodations alone could cost upwards of $6,000. That’s before you factor in food and the expenses once you actually get to Madison. But that’s a story for another day.

Serbian brothers Lazar and Luka Đukić both of whom qualified for the Games through the CrossFit German Throwdown Semifinal are fighting a similar battle.

  • “You can’t even put yourself mentally to stop training for the Games, knowing you may not go. For Serbia, borders are open, but there are no visa appointments until 2023. You can’t even apply for the visa until 2023,” said Lazar Đukić.

In Oceania though, some athletes aren’t finding it nearly as difficult to get to the US. At least not yet, as parts of Australia just recently went back into lockdown after a COVID outbreak. Games veteran Kara Saunders recently spoke about the topic on a podcast and said it only took her three days to get exempt from the travel ban and approved to enter the U.S.

As for Aussie James Newbury who will be competing in the Last Chance Qualifier, he wasn’t taking any chances when it came to missing an opportunity of returning to the Games and arrived early. He said he had no trouble entering the states and is now in Tennessee working out with the PRVN Fitness team.

The bottom line: Despite all of the progress that has been made in the fight against COVID-19 and the re-opening of the United States and many other parts of the world, the pandemic continues to impact the CrossFit Games season. It’s clear that CrossFit LLC is taking measures to assist athletes, but between governmental red tape and the rapidly ticking clock, perhaps as many at one in five Games athletes’ seasons hang in the balance. 

  • “Time passes by fast and this situation will soon become critical so we are pinning our hopes on the approach to the DHS proving successful or that the travel ban from the EU and Schengen will just be lifted in the coming days,” said Barón.

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