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Homeland Security head signs order allowing foreign athletes into US during pandemic

The US government has created an exemption for pro sports athletes to enter the United States during the pandemic. We break down what the order means.

A sign reminding passengers to stay 6 feet apart is seen at a screening checkpoint at Orlando International Airport. Photo by Paul Hennessy/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images

Major professional sports are working to return in North America, but various obstacles remain in place. One obstacle was removed in the United States over the weekend. Acting U.S. Secretary of Homeland Security Chad Wolf signed an order on Friday allowing foreign-born professional athletes to enter the country during the Covid-19 pandemic.

Prior to this exemption, the government had “suspend[ed] the entry of all aliens who were physically present within the People’s Republic of China (excluding the Special Administrative Regions of Hong Kong and Macau), the Islamic Republic of Iran, the Schengen Area, the United Kingdom, and the Republic of Ireland.” There were various exceptions for those “whose entry would be in the national interest,” and now that includes professional athletes.

The order specifically references Major League Baseball, the National Basketball Association, the PGA Tour, the National Hockey League, the Association of Tennis Professionals, and the Women’s Tennis Association.

There is plenty to criticize on the reasoning and who is still not exempted, but for the leagues looking to get their seasons started, this removes a significant hurdle.

One notable issue remains between the United States and Canada, with Canada requiring two weeks of quarantine. The government is not changing that policy yet, which could create logistical hurdles for the Toronto Blue Jays. The NBA and NHL have teams in Canada, but those two leagues are looking at restarts in neutral sites, which could allow those teams to continue playing. Barring some kind of agreement, the Blue Jays might have to play their games elsewhere for the 2020 season.