When sports get political: WNBA players denied visas to Turkey

ST. PAUL, MN - AUGUST 22: Emma Cannon
ST. PAUL, MN - AUGUST 22: Emma Cannon /

On Monday, the Associated Press reported WNBA players Emma Cannon (Phoenix Mercury) and Brionna Jones (Connecticut Sun) were denied visas into Turkey. The pair were set to travel into the country with their Russian team Nadezhda to compete in the Euroleague. Instead, the two Americans were forced to remain in Moscow and miss their first Euroleague game.

More from High Post Hoops

Turkey issued travel restrictions similar to a ban issued by the United States on the same day. The countries suspended nonimmigrant visas, reports the Washington Post.

Nonimmigrant visas are traditionally issued to travelers, students, or those traveling for business, according to U.S Customs and Border Protection.

In this case, Cannon and Jones had their request for nonimmigrant or temporary visas were denied ahead of the business trip to Turkey from Russia.

Relations between Turkey and the United States have been icy dating back to the Obama Administration. Erin Cunningham and Kareem Fahim of The Washington Post provide a helpful timeline of the most recent quarrels, as well as a detailed overview of the history.

Impact on players

WNBA players play in a domestic league, as well as in the Euroleague while abroad. Cannon and Jones, therefore, will compete in Russia and throughout Europe for the winter season. The travel restrictions will only come into play when the Russian-based Nadezhda team travels to play a Turkish team – such as today.

Cannon, Jones and teammate Alex Bentley (Connecticut Sun) are WNBA players on the Nadezhda team set to travel to Istanbul to take on Kelsey Plum, Aeriel Powers (Dallas Wings) and Kia Vaughn (New York Liberty) of the Turkish team Fenerbahce. Again, Cannon and Jones may be forced to watch from Russia as their team competes in the Euroleague.

Bentley, who is a citizen of Belarus and Vaughn of the Czech Republic will not be impacted by the ban. Plum and Powers arrived in Turkey before the travel restrictions.

The bottom line

Last season, ESPN featured WNBA players in Turkey despite an uptick in terrorist attacks in the country. The main reasons WNBA players compete abroad is to stretch one’s comfort zone on and off the court, and for the money.

“It used to be that the money was in Italy, Spain, Russia — it used to be everywhere,” the now-retired Lindsey Harding told ESPN. “But now  … Russia and Turkey is where a lot of the money is. A lot of Americans, a lot of WNBA players especially, are in Turkey. Not just first division but also in [the] second division, where they have a lot of money.”

From the 2017 season, 18 WNBA players were expected to play Turkey. Add Diamond DeShields to that list as well.

The AP reported that Chelsea Gray and Jantel Lavender of the Los Angeles Sparks are unable to join their Turkish teams because of the travel restrictions. The two were expected arrive in Turkey after the five-game WNBA Finals.

Related Story: Where WNBA players are this winter, team-by-team

It will be interesting to see how players are impacted should the travel restrictions be in place next year. As of now, the WNBA does not offer what teams abroad can, “Obviously, these clubs have more money than what the WNBA team’s cap space is,” Breanna Stewart of the Seattle Storm told ESPN last year.

“The WNBA salary is not moving, at all. When you are overseas you have the ability to negotiate with what you want … and that kind of thing.”