The differences in the visa entry conditions of the United States of America and Canada, not to mention the politics of both countries, are emerging as significant factors for next year’s Gay Games in Chicago and Outgames in Montr?.

Official US entry policy bans admission to all non-US citizens living with HIV/AIDS. All visitors must also undergo the intrusive process of being finger-printed and photographed at US customs.

Coupled with widespread international condemnation of the Iraq War and George Bush’s continuing anti-gay policies, it appears US politics could be making Chicago’s Gay Games the less attractive option of the two North American sporting events.

The Clinton administration approved a temporary HIV visa waiver for visitors to the 1994 New York Gay Games. A decision on whether or not to grant a similar waiver for the Chicago Games will not be made until February 2006.

Canada lifted its ban on HIV-positive visitors in June this year, after much lobbying by the organisations planning the 2006 International AIDS Conference in Toronto and the organisers of the Outgames.

In the same month, Canada’s House of Commons approved same-sex marriage, making it one of the most progressive countries in the western world in terms of homosexual equal rights.

A poll conducted by the European Gay and Lesbian Sport Federation found that while 51 percent of the 636 European athletes interviewed planned to attend Montr?’s Outgames, only seven percent were planning to go to Chicago.

It is hard for a lot of GLBT people coming to the US, Rachel Corbett, executive director of the Gay and Lesbian Sporting Association, said, adding she believed Montr? was likely to attract far more participants from countries outside North America.

German travel agent Andreas J. G. Wellauer wrote an article in US magazine The Advocate last year under the headline Barred From The Games, detailing why some Europeans are thinking twice before heading to the US event.

In it, Wellauer stated, For starters, America is one of a few countries that ban entry to foreigners with HIV. While a so-called routine HIV waiver may be issued to allow people with HIV to attend the Games, each participant must still declare on an immigration form if he or she is HIV-positive, and it’s still up to each immigration officer to grant or deny entry, regardless of any waiver.

Mark Tewksbury, former Gold Medal-winning Olympic swimmer and co-president of the Outgames, has used restrictions on US travel visas to Montr?’s advantage. In a recent interview with South African website GMax, while extolling the virtues of his city, he said, Europeans seem to prefer Montr? to Chicago for different reasons -¦ Montr? is in Canada and not in the States -“ no further comment!

Outgames recently claimed 9,480 registrations; Chicago has listed 2,000+.

The Chicago Gay Games website has an entire section devoted to the issue. Along with an explanation of the US anti-HIV visa laws, Chicago organisers have also clearly outlined their opposition to the government stance in the following statement: Chicago Games, Inc. does not believe that these policies represent fair treatment of those who live with HIV or AIDS. We hope that the Gay Games will help draw attention to this issue and that the policy can be repealed or improved in the future.

Team Sydney president Geoff Lyne said he expected the US government would approve an HIV visa waiver in time for the Games, but there were concerns about HIV-positive participants’ rights to privacy.

This is constantly an issue and it is always bubbling away in the background, Lyne said.

The challenge with the waiver is that you are then on record, and if you ever try to enter the US in the future, they will know you are an HIV-positive person and can deny your right to entry.

PLWHA executive officer Geoff Honnor said his office received more calls about overseas travel than any other topic. With both the Chicago and Montr? Games now a little over six months away, PLWHA had already received concerned calls about the events from HIV-positive people.

I have heard stories about some people choosing to go to Montr? over Chicago for this very reason, Honnor said.

I am not at all surprised by this, as that would be my thinking. It is an extraordinary thing in this day and age that the US should continue with this policy.

Team Sydney has taken a neutral position in terms of recommending an event. Lyne said he would attend the games in both cities, but admitted he was reluctant to advise any HIV-positive sporting members what approach they should make.

Team Sydney is all about maximising inclusion in sport. In this regard, what we can do is ensure out athletes they have all the information available. I also know Chicago will circulate the information about this too.

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