HAVANA TIMES — In September of 2013, Cuban athletes were authorized to sign sports contracts abroad. More than a year has elapsed since Cuba’s Official Gazette published the measure, which was considered groundbreaking for Cuban sports. Its practical results, however, have left much to be desired.
At the time, we published an article calling the measure a kind of watershed in the history of Cuban sports. Fourteen months later, unfortunately, very little has changed.
Only four baseball players have been hired by the Japanese league and two by France (one of them was already retired) in this time, which has been more than enough to expect many times that figure.
To begin with, the measure was supposed to apply to all sports, and we have only seen baseball players sign these contracts. We can’t include volleyball here, because sports authorities had already agreed to have Cuba’s team play in the Mexican league before the law was passed. Nor can we consider individual contracts that were already in the works prior to the new legislation.
It hasn’t been for lack of proposals, as practically all sports have received requests from abroad and none has met with a positive reply from the organization responsible for addressing these, the Cuban Sports Institute (INDER).
A source within the State organization, who asked to remain anonymous, expressed her dissatisfaction over the fact that the announcement appeared to suggest all aspects of the problem had been resolved, when this wasn’t in fact the case.
“INDER wasn’t ready to take on a step like this. So many years without an agreement of this nature left us without the personnel qualified to work under the new legal framework they sought to establish. Many people believe it’s just a question of going somewhere and signing an agreement for so many years and so much money, but it’s not. The professional world works on the basis of image rights, insurances of every kind, player trade unions, etc. All of that has to be adequately addressed in the contract to avoid problems down the line.”
“In a way, the government washed its hands of the matter saying: ‘here’s the law.’ But then it turned to us and asked us to analyze every case down to the smallest detail, to work slowly, or not so quickly. In the end, it looks as though INDER isn’t doing enough, but that’s not the case. One of the first things they told us was to allow those contracts for baseball only.”
“Another thing is that they don’t want long contracts, and no team wants to hire a player for only a year. Contracts around the world are generally for the long term, even when the team plans on selling the player to another team so that they can develop professionally. Contracts with Cuban players have to be for a year, however.”
You can’t fit a square peg into a round hole, as they say. On the one hand, the county wants to make headway. On the other, it sets up obstacles. To date, there have been no problems with baseball players, save for the case of Alfredo Despaigne in the Mexican league – but there, it was clear that neither Cuba nor the slugger were responsible for the problems. Why the delays, then?
“I don’t have an answer for that,” says Michel, a university student. “It’s been more than a year, more than enough time for the lawyers to have learned the A to Z. It sounds like an excuse to me. They simply don’t want to. We’d have to ask people in government why.”
“That’s why I wasn’t surprised that so many Cuban athletes deserted during the Central American Games,” Javier interjects. “They are frustrated because they don’t get opportunities, even though they have the talent. They know when other teams are interested in them and, if they get a green light, they simply leave.”
“Why do you think so many athletes in less publicized sports leave the country?” asks Donel. “It’s because they have no other way out. Baseball players more or less manage to get by on their raised salaries and the perks they have, like hotels, but other athletes have a much harder time. They get to travel once a year, if that, and no one can live like that.”
That is more or less what Gerardo, a mechanical engineer, believes. “What they’re giving us are excuses. If they actually want to tear down the wall, it’s not that complicated. I truly believe everyone would benefit from that. The less we move forward in this, the more talents we’re going to lose, because athletes age. All important decisions here are thought, rethought and thought again. If you step into the shoes of an athlete, you’ll know you can’t wait forever. Once you’re 30, no one wants to hire you anymore.”
As always, if there is no shortage of something in Cuba, it’s hope. The re-establishment of diplomatic relations with the United States was recently announced, and this could have a huge impact on Cuban sports.
Sources linked to Cuba’s soccer, water polo and basketball teams, for instance, are confident that the concrete proposals advanced by their respective federations, in connection with the interest in hiring Cuban athletes abroad, will be approved.
A chess player, a number of Judo fighters temporarily with Brazil’s league for a specific sporting event, Tae Kwon Do practitioners who participated under similar contracts with Mexico’s league, or a Ping-Pong player asked to participate in an event in Spain aren’t enough.
Given Cuba’s sports potential and the economic difficulties faced by training athletes, it is a crime not to take advantage of the extensive experience and monetary benefits (at the personal and State levels) that contracts with a professional team would entail. Perhaps we will head in a new direction in 2015.