By Ronald Quiñones
HAVANA TIMES – As the pandemic apparently loosens its deadly grip in Cuba, the Caribbean country is preparing to gradually return to normal in all its spheres, and a tentative schedule is planned for the return of high-performance sports.
From this first phase in which we find ourselves, both state and private gyms reopened, although only at 50 percent of their capacity, and for the summer they are working on preparing a plan to invite Cubans to perform physical exercises from their homes or communities with direct attention from trainers. However, the School Games (the national sports competition for children) will remain suspended.
The highlight for many will undoubtedly be the Cuban Baseball League, although with some limitations. According to the authorities the new season will start on September 12th in Matanzas, with a game against Camagüey, its rival for the title in the last season.
Closed-door training will begin in August with a fewer than usual 45 athletes, with a strong physical preparation, due to the inactivity forced by the pandemic.
During these months, reports have appeared of players preparing from their homes with rustic means, improvised weight benches and some baseballs, but now is when they can really get in shape.
Training at beaches and other public places is prohibited. Such was customary in various territories, especially to take advantage of the resistance of water and sand. Likewise any preseason play will be the minimum.
One thing that surprised me was that the public’s entrance to the stadiums was not prohibited, and there is only talk of avoiding full crowds, demanding that fans comply with the distance regulations and the rest of the measures directed by the health authorities.
However, it seems a risky measure to me. It’s true that in almost all the provinces cases have not been reported for a good while, but such events with fans has not been the practice in the rest of the world.
The plan is for a 75-game season in an all-against-all system, with sub-series going back and forth. Games will be played Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Saturday and Sunday, while Monday and Friday will be travel and rest days.
This implies that there will be 30 more games for each team, since in the previous season half of the squads were eliminated in the first round (after 45 games) and only some of their players remained in play if they were selected as reinforcements.
After the closing of the regular season calendar, scheduled for December 27, eight teams will qualify for the postseason, and will face each other through the cross system (1st place against 8th, 2nd with 7th, 3rd with 6th and 4th with 5th), in best of five series.
Subsequently, four reinforcements will be selected for the semifinal and final series, which will each be contested in seven games each between January 17 and February 5. Note that this last date coincides with this year’s Caribbean Series, from which Cuba was excluded.
As a novelty of the upcoming season, the teams’ home club uniforms will use their pseudonyms, related to the mascots that represent each province. A few days ago the samples came out on national television, and frankly they left a lot to be desired.
Although this structure of only a first round was expected, the reality is that it might be the only year like that. For next year, the emphasis with be on quality and thus a second round with fewer teams, as it has been in recent years. Likewise, the Under-23 league should be resumed, a category that contributes almost half of the players to the top-level competition.
One aspect that was not discussed was the particular case of Havana, which continues to provide confirmed Covid-19 cases daily and will not be in the same phase as the rest of the provinces. Industriales, the Havana baseball team, is supposed to travel to all the provinces to play their games, but will there be an audience at the Latin American stadium in the capital? How would fans get to and from the stadium if transportation is still limited?
Anyway, these questions apparently will be answered later, and hopefully there is no need to backtrack because there is a positive Covid-19 transmission during training, or already in the heat of the season.
Other sports competitions are planned for a second phase, such as the National Wrestling Tournament, on the date that is defined, and in December the Playa Giron boxing tournament, both in Santiago de Cuba.
At that stage, the culmination of the 2019-2020 school games resumes. Meanwhile, the prohibition of holding international events, or training with foreign athletes in the country, continues.
With regard to the Olympic and Paralympic qualification processes, everything will depend on how their events are rescheduled, but it is proposed that they focus for their preparation in this second recovery phase.
The experiences of the return of high-level sports so far have been good in Europe. The United States has not yet recovered either basketball or baseball, although they already have a date. In the case of the NBA, starting July 30, a reduced schedule is set to begin, with fewer teams and a single venue. Major League Baseball is planning to begin its season starting July 23rd with a reduced schedule.
All these experiments will serve to take note of what can and cannot be done, especially with regard to the presence of fans in the stands. That’s the part that worries me the most.