By Phillip Whitten
PHOENIX, Ariz., December 29. THE recent decision by the Bush administration to bar the powerful Cuban national baseball team from competing at the inaugural World Baseball Classic is foolish, clumsy and certain to be counter-productive.
The tournament is scheduled to open in Puerto Rico on March 3, and will run through March 20, with games to be played in Puerto Rico, the USA and Japan. Cuba was to have played all of its games in Puerto Rico.
The US government used laws enacted more than 40 years ago to keep Cubans from gaining financially from participation in events in the United States. US Treasury officials told organizers of the event that it would be against the law to include a team from Cuba.
But Cuban athletes have competed in the US before: at the 1996 Olympic Games, for example. The Cuban soccer team played here last summer in the Gold Cup. In 1999, the Cuban baseball team played the Baltimore Orioles at Camden Yards and in Havana.
So either the US government officials are uninformed today or past US government officials are guilty of having broken the law. Will they be prosecuted?
I don’t know if this is true of the baseball tournament, but in Olympic and international swimming competition (including Masters), a host nation must pledge, in writing, to allow all duly qualified athletes to compete, regardless of country of origin. Countries violating this pledge are barred from hosting future events.
This is an excellent rule, designed to keep countries from using sport to further their own personal, partisan or national perceived interests.
This issue arose at the 1998 Masters World Swimming Championships, held in Casablanca, Morocco, where, after accepting their registration fees, meet organizers refused to allow Israeli swimmers to participate. A protest by Swimming World to FINA elicited a pledge that Morocco would be barred from hosting any FINA events in the future if there were ever a repetition of that sordid behavior.
You can be certain that Olympic officials are watching closely what transpires with the world Baseball Classic. (By the way, how does an event become a “classic” the first time it is held? Don’t you have to hold at least one before it earns the “classic” label?).
If the US does not reverse its ridiculous decision – a decision, by the way, that will only result in sympathy for the Castro regime – the IOC might justifiably decide that any future US bid to host the Games would start with at least two strikes against it. Maybe three.
The action by the US Treasury Department accomplishes nothing positive. In a phrase, it is Bush League. It should be reversed.