Outside of a brief period between 2020-2022, when a large portion of the global population was collectively inculcated with a fear pathogen that fundamentally altered the way of life for citizens across the planet, you’d be hard pressed to find a time when a major international competitive sports organization was unable to have one of its premier athletes compete at a signature event due to visa and travel restrictions. Perhaps the most famous incidence of a world class athlete being barred from competing at a major sporting event occurred last year, when tennis star Novak Djokovic was deported from Australia, thus preventing him from competing in the Australian Open, when he was denied entry into the country due his vaccination status; a decision that must have made his dominant, schorched earth tear through this year’s competition feel all that much sweeter, as he blew through the tournament en route to winning his record tying 22nd Grand Slam title.
Outside of Djokovic, there are several other lesser examples of athletes being unable to compete in other major sporting organizations during the same time period; including resident NBA lunatic, Kyrie Irving, who missed more than half of the 2021 season for taking a similar stance on getting the jab. But, by in large, incidents like these are the exception, not the rule, unless we’re talking about bodybuilding, where we’ve seen prominent international athletes repeatedly miss out on the opportunity to compete on the sport’s biggest stage due to travel restrictions with an alarmingly high frequency over the past few seasons.
Last weekend we saw Nathan Deasha get denied entry into the country after he arrived at a Florida airport, which effectively put a halt on his plan to spend the last few weeks of his Olympia prep stateside- although Deasha’s camp independently confirmed to RxMuscle that he intended to appeal the decision, and make another attempt at reentry within the coming weeks. However, unfortunately for bodybuilding fans, even if Nathan wins his appeal, and is able to compete in this year’s contest, the news of a high-level athlete losing out on the opportunity to make their presence felt on the Olympia stage has become an all to familiar theme that doesn’t appear to be going away anytime soon, which begs the question: If we know this is a problem, why isn’t there anything being done about it?
During the heart of the Covid hysteria, sports leagues across the globe all found themselves in similar positions, as their seasons hung in the balance amidst a bevy of health, social, and geopolitical concerns. Whereas some chose to offer watered-down versions of their product, and others opted to push the eject button on their season, instead of accepting Option A or B, UFC President Dana White decided to take a hard pivot and go with Option C, shifting his entire promotion away from it’s home base in the US to Abu Dhabi which, in hindsight, may have been one of the shrewdest things that a sports commissioner of any major league has ever done, and it subsequently led to an explosion of both popularity and market share for an organization that had the greatest brand recognition - not to mention the greatest athletes - in the world of combat sports.
The IFBB might not be battling a global pandemic that’s threatening to shut down its entire operation, similar to what White and the UFC were facing a few years ago, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t staring down the barrel of an escalating problem that might only continue to worsen as tensions and travel restrictions rise with the growing conflict in the Middle East. The top end of this year’s Olympia lineup has a strong international presence, not to mention the long list of international competitors who make up a high percentage of the Olymia qualified athletes across every division - many of whom are forced to arrive in the US several weeks ahead of the show specifically because they’re trying to avoid last minute complications with their travel and contest prep. Now, does that mean the pro league should erect its own version of Fight Island somewhere overseas in a location where athletes who are qualified to compete in the sports premier event are less likely to encounter visa restrictions? No, not necessarily. But, as we learned from Dana White’s refusal to accept the status quo as the only path forward, capitalizing on an opportunity to have your best talent on display certainly seems to have more appeal for fans, and potential to grow the business of bodybuilding than the alternative.