It’s a little ironic when you consider the facts: Sport is a builder of bridges between nations and Canada is perceived as one of the world’s most receptive Western nations to immigration. Uganda is, also, by no means an African country with the largest exoduses of citizens seeking refugee statuses elsewhere.
So why is the Canadian government under the impression that members of the 2015 Uganda Freestyle Kayak Team will want to remain in Canada even after the tournament concludes? This, despite the fact that the team has, according to a VICE News report, raised US$14,000 to cover costs; received visas from the UK, Australia and Switzerland for previous competitions – where, clearly, they did not remain. The team members are also reported to have strong family ties, jobs and land holdings in Uganda.
The Ottawa Citizen reported that it is in possession of documents indicating how Canadian officials based in Nairobi, Kenya have twice rejected the team’s visa applications for these reasons. This has made the Ugandan kayakers the only team out of 27 others to be denied entry. The other teams that have successfully registered for the championship include Ukraine, Russia, Japan, and Slovakia.
Freestyle kayaking is a discipline of whitewater kayaking or canoeing where the paddler performs various technical moves in one place (a playspot), as opposed to downriver whitewater canoeing or kayaking where the objective is to travel the length of a section of river
Watch the Ugandan Freestyle Kayak Team’s fundraising video released earlier this year:
“It was a total surprise because none of the other nations have had any issues. And competing in world championships is a very legitimate reason for wanting to come for an event and it’s not like they’re coming to Canada to visit family, not like any of them would dodge off,” Ward said. “It’s been pretty devastating. They’re self-made heroes in their country who started with absolutely nothing — and they’ve truly earned this opportunity, the chance to leave East Africa for an amazing adventure,” said British kayaker and the team’s coach, Sam Ward.
The team is now in its third and final attempt at getting into the country – totally understandable, considering the fact that each application costs US$200 per applicant.
Even though Canada’s immigration service has, according to VICE, remained mum on this particular case, perhaps it isn’t so baffling. This is not the first time the country has denied African athletes entry for participation in one of their hosted tournaments. In 2008, six Nigerian wrestlers were refused visas for an Olympic qualifying championship. And in 2012, volleyball teams from Burundi, Morocco, Rwanda, and Guinea weren’t allowed to attend a junior world championship in Halifax, Nova Scotia.
In spite of Canada’s poor ‘track record’, we hope that the team will persevere and see to it that this final attempt will catapult them on to the world kayaking stage in a couple of weeks. best of luck, Uganda Freestyle Kayak Team!