KAMPALA, Uganda -- The Ugandan government will punish those responsible if it finds that members of a youth baseball team were denied American visas for lying about their age, a sports official said Saturday.
Godfrey Mabirizi, the vice chairman of Uganda's National Council of Sports, said that the government will also apologize to the U.S. if its investigation proves their ages were falsified.
"What happened shames our country and we should not encourage it. We are going to investigate and punish those involved. Unless USA has other reasons for denying the players visas, but if it is because of lying age or disorganized documents then it is unfortunate," Mabirizi said.
The Rev. John Foundation team from Kampala has lost its bid to become the first team from Africa to play in the Little League World Series after U.S. consular services in Uganda denied it visa's over discrepancies of players' ages and birth dates.
The team from Kampala, Uganda, won the Middle East and Africa Region tournament, qualifying it to compete in the 65th Little League World Series. The tournament begins Aug. 18 in South Williamsport, Pennsylvania, and ends Aug. 28
Mabirizi said that in the future the council will verify age and documents of players before they leave.
He added that it is common for sportsmen in Africa to lie about their age, which he said is not good for sports.
On Friday a State Department official in Washington, speaking on condition of anonymity because visa records are confidential, said several players provided false birth documents to make their ages appear younger.
Until now, the Ugandan team's success was considered a home run for Little League and baseball's international growth. Little League officials plan to meet in the next few days to determine how to proceed with the series, with a preference to maintain a 16-team field.
According to Little League, the last time a team that qualified could not make the trip was 1959. A squad from then-West Germany composed of dependents of U.S. Army personnel couldn't make it because the team's manager and coaches could not get away from their military duties.
At the time, just eight teams qualified for the tournament, and the 1959 series was played with just seven squads. The team would have been the first squad from Africa to play in the 65-year history of the World Series.