The Department of Homeland Security has announced a new set of travel permissions for foreign athletes wishing to enter the United States to participate in professional sporting events. Although the travel exception lists a wide array of stick-and-ball sports, it does not currently include motor racing, or series like the NTT IndyCar Series, IMSA’s WeatherTech SportsCar Championship, or the SRO Motorsports America series, which rely on numerous international drivers and team members to conduct their events in full.
Acting DHS secretary Chad Wolf signed the border crossing exemption on Friday and, according to its press release, “The Department will work with the professional sporting groups to identify the specific athletes, essential staff, team and league leadership, spouses, and dependents covered by this exemption.”
Of the sporting leagues to gain permission for its players and other associated members to enter the U.S, the DHS specified “Major League Baseball, the National Basketball Association, the Women’s National Basketball Association, the Professional Golfers’ Association Tour, the Ladies Professional Golf Association Tour, the National Hockey League, the Association of Tennis Professionals, and the Women’s Tennis Association.”
With almost half of IMSA’s paddock hailing from outside the U.S., and a vast number of American and global auto manufacturers directly involved in IMSA and the SRO’s sports car championships, it could be argued that commerce, along with entertainment, is being negatively impacted as a result of the travel restrictions.
At present, IMSA would be unable to resume its coronavirus-delayed season while 40 percent of its participants are barred from entering the U.S. Although their percentages are far lower, IndyCar and the SRO face similar obstacles as some of their drivers and important sporting figures remain barred from traveling into the country for upcoming motor races.
The DHS suggests the exemption could also be modified to include more sports like racing, if deemed necessary.
“The Acting Secretary may add or remove those exempted from the list based on assessments of national interest, including the plans of the relevant professional sporting groups to support sporting events in the United States that do not cause an unnecessary risk to the public health.”
One key piece of information missing from the announcement is the coronavirus testing and screening protocols the newly-inbound athletes and related personnel will be required to go through, and if a standard quarantine period will be part of the process.
“This order does not exempt individuals from inspection by Customs and Border Protection or any other agency requirements,” the DHS wrote.
IndyCar is the first of the three series in question to return to racing, with a single-day event scheduled for June 6 at Texas Motor Speedway. At least two European drivers, rookies Alex Palou of Dale Coyne Racing, and Rinus VeeKay of Ed Carpenter Racing, could be forced to miss the season opener under the existing travel ban.
IMSA’s next race is set for July 4 at Daytona International Speedway, and the SRO group return the following weekend at Virginia International Raceway.