The World Championships of Performing Arts ends tonight at the Hilton
Burbank Airport and Convention Center following an eight-day stay.
But about 150 performers from Jamaica, Malaysia, the Philippines
and other countries who qualified to compete this week were absent
because they were denied visas to enter the U.S., officials said.
Griff O’Neil, the event’s organizer and president, said the
competition has been adversely affected because of missing talent
from Eastern Bloc countries such as Russia, Ukraine and Latvia.
“There are wonderful ethnic folk dancers who you don’t see here,”
O’Neil said. “And reggae musicians who perform incredible music are
now sitting back home in Jamaica.”
About 325 contestants were originally scheduled to appear, but
because visas were denied, only 177 artists are competing.
O’Neil said he believes performing artists are discriminated
against by the U.S. State Department in consulate offices around the
world. Employees in these offices, he alleged, think of performing
artists as third-class citizens.
Although he said artists have had trouble entering the country in
the past, O’Neil said it’s been even harder to visit the U.S. since
the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.
“The thing that really knifed me in the back, a month ago in
Anaheim at the World Gymnastics Championships, they let everybody in,
and then the Cubans defected,” O’Neil said.
Steve Pike, spokesman for the U.S. State Department, said people
are denied visas for a variety of reasons, and said such records and
applications are confidential and protected under immigration law.
“We are not at liberty to discuss the particular decisions that
were made in a particular case,” Pike said.
Lama Smith, a Jamaican official who is responsible for
administration, selection and the invitations for the official
delegates, said that Jamaican contestants applied for their visas in
“There was more than enough time to apply, but 50 were denied in
one day,” Smith said. “The following day, more contestants were
Irene Hryszko, representing Ukraine, said that when Olympic figure
skating gold medalist Oksana Baiul applied for a visa, she was
recognized for her athleticism and allowed entry into the U.S.
“There is opportunity for athletes, but no opportunity for
artists,” Hryszko said.