By Philip Hersh / Chicago Tribune
Chicago’s apparently swelling hopes to become host of the 2016 Summer Olympics, as well as those of any other U.S. city, could be damaged severely by the U.S. government’s continued refusal to let Cuba compete in the World Baseball Classic.
The International Olympic Committee demands governments of Olympic host countries grant entry to all legitimate athletes from recognized National Olympic Committees, although each nation retains the right to exclude people for reasons including past criminal behavior or security.
Even if the Bush administration promises future Cuban Olympic athletes would be admitted, many IOC voters would be quick to bring up the baseball situation as an example of the United States taking sports hostage for political reasons.
“We would need to have guarantees in terms of immigration, of all athletes and all countries, to avoid this issue we have with Cuba,” IOC president Jacques Rogge told the Associated Press Wednesday.
President Bush no longer will be in office when the IOC chooses the 2016 host in 2009. But IOC members have long memories and that might affect the United States Olympic Committee’s decision, expected by mid-year, about having a U.S. candidate for 2016.
As IOC member Richard Pound of Canada once said about a U.S. visa denial for an athlete: “It is like a social disease. It will come back to haunt you at the most embarrassing times.”