By Isaac Risco
HAVANA TIMES — Cuban authorities made a 180 degree turn by officially announcing today that athletes can sign in the future with teams in foreign leagues if they meet a few requirements, reported dpa news.
The reform will be implemented “in the coming months,” and seeks “to generate revenue” and “gradually increase wages,” reported the official Granma daily. In Cuba restrictions have been in place for decades for its high-level athletes.
Coaches, trainers and other specialists will also benefit from the reform, said Granma. The warming towards professional sports comes amid the process of market economic reforms from the Raul Castro administration.
The top athletes now have “the possibility of signing with teams abroad,” approved over the weekend by the Council of Ministers.
Professional sports were abolished in Cuba in 1962. Since then, Cuban athletes were forbidden to work as professionals or joining foreign teams. Ever since, athletes wanting to turn pro routinely deserted the islands teams when traveling abroad for international events.
The reform, which includes a salary increase at home, seeks to improve the income of athletes and give them better conditions without them having to stop competing on the island. “When seeking permission to sign a foreign contract, the presence of the athlete in Cuba for the main competitions of the year will be taken into account,” said Granma.
The information did not detail whether the reform will include the possibility that Cuban players signing directly with Major League Baseball teams in the United States, also complicated by the US embargo on Cuba.
The changes announced today will also provide a number of new wage incentives for active athletes on the island.
Among them is also the athletes right to keep the full amount, after taxes, of prizes won in international sporting events. Until now it was common for such cash income to flow to state coffers.
The reform is part of the “updating” of the Cuban economic model with market elements, similar to the process of opening up of China and Vietnam in past decades.
The new salary policy will apply from January 2014, with the exception of baseball where it will take effect this November when the Cuban League play begins.
In July, the Cuban Baseball Federation announced that it had authorized the signing of baseball players with professional clubs in Mexico as part of “inserting Cuban baseball in the world.” Shortly after, the authorities allowed three players to play for the Mexican professional team Campeche Pirates.
The arrival of executives of another Mexican club then generated speculation on the island of more contacts to come with Cuban players. The Cuban federation denied that possibility, saying any new signings was momentarily “delayed”.
In recent times the island has also taken steps to join the World Series of Boxing (semi-professional) of the International Amateur Boxing Association (AIBA).