IOC: US Olympic Bid for 2016 in Jeopardy if Cuba Banned from Baseball Classic

By Phillip Whitten

PHOENIX, January 20. IT didn’t take long. Two weeks ago, in “Bush League,” we argued that the Bush Administration’s ill-considered decision to bar Cuba from the strangely named “World Baseball Classic,” scheduled to take place March 3-20 in the United States, Japan and Puerto Rico, would jeopardize future Olympic bids by the USOC and US cities.

Officials in Chicago have been mulling over a potential bid for the 2016 Games.

It was hardly a brash prediction. The International Baseball Federation (IBAF), which is a member of the International Olympic Committee, says it must abide by the rules of that body, which hold that "any form of discrimination to a country or person on grounds of race, politics, gender or otherwise is incompatible with the Olympic movement."

FINA has a similar rule and has stated that countries that so discriminate will not be permitted to host FINA events in the future. The issue came up at the 1998 FINA Masters World Swimming Championships, held in Casablanca, Morocco, where, just before the meet began, Moroccan officials announced that Israeli swimmers (whose entry fees had already been accepted) would not be allowed to compete – or even enter the country.

(This decision was especially strange given that a member of the FINA Executive Board is an Israeli and he had been in Morocco to take part in the planning of the meet).

Afterwards, FINA President Mustapha Larfaouie announced that in the future, no country would be allowed to host a FINA event unless it ensured that all competitors would be welcome to compete, without regard to race, nationality, politics or gender.

Since the IBAF is a member of the IOC, it, too, is bound by IOC rules, especially this one, which prohibits discrimination against athletes based upon the political policies of their country.

Recently, IOC president Jacques Rogge said he'd love to see the USA bid to host the Olympic Games in the future, but not if the US bars Cuba from taking part in the World Baseball Classic.

Strangely, Cuban athletes have competed in the USA. Just last year an international soccer tournament in which Cuba participated was held in the US. Cubans participated in the 1996 Atlanta Games as well, winning nine gold medals and 25 in all. These events are often embarrassing to Cuba when, as usually happens, some of their top athletes defect.

Yesterday, USOC Chairman Peter Ueberroth called on the Bush administration to reverse its decision to bar Cuba, which was expected to contend for the gold with the USA.

Ueberroth, a former baseball commissioner and head of the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics, confirmed that the decision would damage US efforts to host the Olympics in the future.

"It is important to any future bid city from the United States that this be reversed," Ueberroth said during a telephone interview with The Associated Press. "It's disappointing. This will impact IOC members negatively.”

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