Cayman Islands forfeit 2026 qualifier against Cuba over fear of US VISA reprisals

June 13 – The long-standing issues of VISA entry to the US for Cubans took a different twist this week with the Cayman Islands men’s team pulling out of a World Cup qualifying fixture in Cuba.

The team withdrew from the fixture citing fears that with the US travel restrictions imposed on Cuba, there was a potential risk for Cayman’s players, a number of whom are either at college in the US or training there.

The US routinely cancels ESTA visa waivers for anyone who has travelled to Cuba. This could impact several of the national team players who are under 23, on student visas to attend college in the US and have ESTAs in their British passports.

The Cayman Islands FA had appealed to Concacaf to have the match played on a different island that wouldn’t expose the players to danger of being refused entry to the US, but Concacaf said Cuba were entitled to a home match.

Cayman Islands Football Association (CIFA) president Alfredo Whittaker said: “I don’t want to risk any of these boys’ ESTAs being removed or their student visas removed for one game.”

The decision is a blow to Cayman’s hopes of progressing in Concacaf World Cup qualifying. Concacaf have awarded the game as a 3-0 win to Cuba, putting them into second place in the group, ahead of Cayman on goal difference.

Last weekend Cayman beat Antigua and Barbuda 1-0 in their first group game with a goal scored by 18-year-old Joshwa Campbell.

Also in the Cayman Islands group are Honduras and Bermuda. Group play is in a single round robin format with two home and two away matches.

The top two teams from each of the six groups qualify for the final group qualifying stage where the winners from the three groups of four qualify for the 2026 finals, while the runners up have the opportunity to win an intercontinental play-off.

The final two group games of the current group stage will not be played until June 2025. Cayman are away to Bermuda before facing Honduras at home.

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