NEWS

Beach soccer players' visa woes beset tournament

08/16/2012 12:32 EDT | Updated 10/16/2012 05:12 EDT
Organizers of an international beach soccer tournament this weekend in Montreal are furious with the federal government for refusing to grant visas to the team from Morocco.

The organizers of the Beach Soccer Montreal tournament say Ottawa fears some of the Moroccan national team's players might defect.

The government made its decision based on the fact that some of the players have low incomes, said George Papamikidis, CEO of tournament presenter Cadima Sports Group. He said that's unacceptable.

"This is soccer. Soccer is for the love of the game. People will play for nothing, you can't stop because of financial reasons," he said.

Papamikidis said the Moroccans denied entry constitute the country's national beach soccer team.

"It's not just a team that we chose…. It's the national team of Morocco! That alone is enough information to finalize a decision in favour of letting them go."

Defection isn't an entirely far-fetched idea. Just this week, a Cuban baseball player disappeared in Edmonton. Last week, five Cameroonian athletes did the same during the London Olympics.

But Mohammed Ezzemmori, who writes for a Moroccan-Canadian newspaper, echoed Papamikidis, saying this team is different.

"These aren't just any players," he said. "They travel all over the world, and we were looking forward to seeing them."

The men's tournament also includes teams from Mexico, Italy and Brazil. The women's competition features squads from Mexico, Brazil, Canada and the United States.

The competition is taking place at the stadium in Jarry Park, which had 800 tonnes of sand brought in to create the playing surface.

Citizenship and Immigration Canada turned down CBC's request for an interview.

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