Don’t Be Caught Offside: Key Immigration and Travel Considerations for the Sports Industry

June 30, 2021

Amid the COVID-19 pandemic, the sports industry was one of the first to be in a position to move its people around the world, with sporting events often a test case for further easing measures. Now with varying levels of restrictions being eased globally, we are seeing more events take place within the context of restricted travel. This constantly changing landscape makes managing and traveling to large international events a challenge for sporting professionals and those who work in the industry.

At the beginning of the pandemic, it was necessary to partner with government authorities to create bespoke exceptions for sporting professionals and supporting individuals. While more formal procedures are now in place, the goal posts are moving on a sometimes daily basis, so it is important to keep up with the changes in addition to the usual visa requirements. With post-Brexit immigration measures taking effect at the start of 2021, there is further complexity to factor in for the United Kingdom.

Plan Ahead

Many consulates are at or near capacity and the range of procedures in place for exempted sports-related travel are in addition to traditional visa and passport services already provided. It is also often necessary to supplement exemption requests with further information from a relevant national sporting body. Exemption processes can therefore take weeks or months so it is key to factor this into your timeline where possible.

In the United Kingdom, if the event you are attending is listed as a specified competition, any international elite sportspersons or eligible supporting staff will not need to self-isolate for 10 days before they can participate. If there is an event that doesn’t appear on the specified list, it is possible to have the event added, but this can take up to six weeks to request.

It is often necessary to have at least six months on your passport or travel documentation validity; ensure you check your travel documents in advance.

Assess Your Location Exposure

In the United States and Europe, there can be different travel rules state by state and country by country, respectively. If a tournament or sporting event requires entry into multiple jurisdictions, you may need to seek an exemption for each individual entry and from individual country consulates.

A national interest exemption (NIE) can be sought in the United States for those who want to travel from restricted countries. However, it is worth noting that all leagues, whether approved under past presidential proclamations, will be required to submit additional information for league approval prior to additional athlete NIE waiver requests being considered.

In the European Union, UK nationals who were resident or working in the European Union before January 1, 2021, can request an Article 50 permit or frontier worker permit for the country in which they are resident/working. For travel to any other EU country or for UK nationals who were not resident in the European Union pre-Brexit, a visa assessment will need to be conducted for each country.

Assess Your Workforce and Those Traveling with You

While elite sportspeople and their support networks, families, and medical staff, in addition to event organizers and the media, are often eligible for travel exemptions, their status and job definitions vary in the eyes of the body granting the exemption. It is important to know the roles of those traveling and under what rules they fall.


Brexit adds an additional consideration for those requiring travel between the United Kingdom and European Union. In addition to COVID-19 specific exemptions for sports-related travel, since January 2021 a new set of rules governing business travel is in place. Note that in some cases sports-related business visitor activities can be permitted, including attending business meetings, giving talks and speeches, and negotiating and signing deals. However, many activities do not squarely fit within the rules and direct outreach to the relevant consulate is often required.

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