By RONALD BLUM | Associated Press
Canadian International Olympic Committee member Dick Pound said yesterday that U.S. bids to play host to future Olympic Games will be damaged by the Bush administration’s decision to prevent Cuba from playing in next year’s inaugural World Baseball Classic.
The United States Treasury Department denied a request by Major League Baseball and the MLB Players Association for a permit to allow Cuba to send a team.
“It’s for baseball to decide, but if they don’t make a stand on something like that, then they will have big problems down the road,” said Pound, a Montreal lawyer.
If not reversed, he said “it would completely scupper any bid” by the United States for the Summer or Winter Games.
Baseball officials said they had asked lawyers at Morgan Lewis & Bockius to attempt to have the Bush administration reverse the decision by the Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control, which by law must issue permits for certain transactions with Fidel Castro’s communist country.
“I think our policy regarding Cuba is pretty well-known,” White House spokesman Scott McClellan said. “We want people in Cuba to participate in freedom.”
Rep. Lincoln Diaz-Balart of Florida said he had spoken to the Treasury Department urging that the permit be denied.
“There are plenty of free Cuban players and Cuban-Americans here in the majors and in the minors who would be proud to represent Cuba, and they should be able to and not a totalitarian regime that would share in any proceeds from this tournament,” he said.
He rejected Pound’s claim that the decision will hurt the United States in Olympic bidding.
“Hopefully by an [Olympic Games] very near in the future there will be a free Cuba, anyway,” Diaz-Balart said. “I think that’s one of the most absurd arguments I’ve heard in a long time.”
U.S. Olympic Committee spokesman Darryl Seibel said any fallout in the IOC was hard to predict because the USOC hasn’t decided when it will make its next bid. But he also added: “Certainly it’s important for any country that’s bidding for the Games to be able to represent with confidence that athletes and coaches from around the world will be able to come to their country.”
In Havana, government officials didn’t react to the decision, but several Cuban citizens were angry.
“Enough already,” said Antonio Mayeta, whose brother plays for Havana’s Industriales baseball team. “It’s unbelievable. This is about sports, not politics. In Cuba, baseball is our culture. Everyone was so anxious to see these games.”
Said Victor Renglon, sitting on a park bench in central Havana: “Everyone from Fidel to little boys are born with a bat in their hands.”
Puerto Rico Secretary of State Fernando Bonilla planned to meet today with the head of Immigration and Customs Enforcement in Puerto Rico, and seek help in reversing the decision from Luis Fortuno, Puerto Rico’s nonvoting representative in the U.S. Congress, and from the director of the Puerto Rico Federal Affairs Administration in Washington.
In 1999, the U.S. government allowed Cuba’s national team to play an exhibition game against the Baltimore Orioles at Camden Yards, the second leg of a home-and-home series.
“Back then, it was the Clinton administration not only allowing but organizing the opening to Castro and utilizing Peter Angelos and the Baltimore Orioles and Bud Selig. They were instigating it,” Diaz-Balart said. “This administration is complying with law and policy.”
Pound pointed out the U.S. government allowed Cuba to participate in the 1996 Atlanta Olympics. Twelve years earlier, Cuba was part of the boycott of the Los Angeles Games.
Just last summer, Cuba’s national soccer team was allowed to come to the United States for the Gold Cup, the championship of North and Central America and the Caribbean.
“Sports should be separated from politics,” U.S. Soccer Federation president Bob Contiguglia said. “That’s been a FIFA and an IOC philosophy, and we concur with that philosophy. In soccer, we’ve played Cuba in sport on many occasions and it’s never been a problem. We’ve had teams go to Cuba and they’ve come here. So it seems kind of short-sighted that the administration would do that.”