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Sandip Roy

Sandip Roy

Posted: October 2, 2009 07:32 PM

Guess Who's Not Coming to The Olympics

What's Your Reaction?

It's probably just as well that Barack Obama's magic touch didn't work on the International Olympic Committee. The election of Obama has certainly reduced the number of globetrotting Americans who try to pass for Canadian. But he can't just touch down for five hours and seal the deal.

But the most interesting quote I read about Chicago's drubbing in the Olympic hosting race was a question from an I.O.C. member from Pakistan.

Syed Shahid Ali asked how smooth it would be for foreigners to enter the United States for the Games because as he put it, coming to the US these days can be "a harrowing experience." I hope Obama noted that.

This is a slap in the face reminder that the election of Obama has changed a certain style and the image but the levers of bureaucracy underneath have not necessarily changed course.

It's not just Olympic athletes from countries like Pakistan or Iraq. Scientists, artists, students are all facing the same hurdles getting into the US. And many of them just don't want to come. Who wants the airport humiliation?

A couple of years ago I remember the San Francisco International Film Festival complaining that many eminent filmmakers couldn't get visas. The Iranian contingent was especially hurt by the visa clampdown. Tragically, Iran has probably the most illustrious filmmaking industry in the region. The very renowned director Abbas Kiarostami was denied a visa when he was coming to the US to debut his film Ten. A couple of other directors from other parts of the world also decided not to come as an act of solidarity.

In 2006, a group of Iranian academics and scientists coming for the Northern California reunion of the prestigious Sharif Institute of Technology found themselves turned away from US airports even after they got the visa. Behnam Kamrani who lives in Sweden and works for a US company got to spend nine hours in the airport before being turned back. But he considered himself one of the "lucky ones" because he was not handcuffed.

In 2004 for the first time since 1971, the number of foreign students enrolled in US colleges and universities declined thanks to the "war on terror". Now the Census says for the first time in three decades the number of foreign-born Americans in this country tapered off slightly in 2008.

Nobody wants to be the visa officer that let in the terrorist. But instead of analyzing Chicago's downfall in the IOC as a litmus test of Obama's magic, it should be a wake up call for the US.

The world didn't reject Obama. It's gotten the symbolism of his election. Now it's time to go beyond the symbols. It wants to see the promised change in action. And five hours of Obama isn't enough change.

Rio, apparently was change the IOC could believe in.