Monday, July 26, 2004

Children's Games groups grounded by visa problems

The Associated Press

CLEVELAND - Visa problems have forced cities in Cameroon, Iraq, Nigeria and the Philippines to halt plans to send teams to the International Children's Games next week.

As of Friday, organizers were expecting 120 cities from 53 countries to send teams to the Games. A team from Mongolia is still hoping to make it despite having trouble securing visas.

"It's disappointing, especially because a lot of the paperwork was already in," said David Gilbert, president of the Greater Cleveland Sports Commission, which is organizing the Games. "With the current world situation, it's sometimes difficult to get visas."

Gilbert said organizers had anticipated some delegations would drop out.

Carol Payto, program director for the event, said she didn't think the problems had anything to do with security concerns.

"Getting appointments with the U.S. embassies is very difficult," she said, noting the State Department had helped with some cases. "It was more getting appointments and time issues than anything else."

The visa problems are keeping about 50 athletes and coaches from the first International Children's Games in an American city.

Yolanda Salviejo, president of the local Philippine Chamber of Commerce, was disheartened when she heard the delegation from Manila wouldn't be coming. She didn't know what she would tell volunteers raising money for the group.

Salviejo and about 20 other members of the local Filipino community have spent a year raising money for the delegation.

A group of 24 boys and girls from El Salvador arrived Friday. Cleveland-area people raised $36,000 for their air fare, visa fees, health insurance and bus transportation.

The children will stay at the Center for Pastoral Leadership in suburban Wickliffe until the event begins.

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