Monday, December 19, 2005

COMMENTARY: Bush Must Let Cuba Play Baseball in Inaugural World Baseball Classic

http://www.huntingtonnews.net


Dec. 19, 2005

By Rene A. Henry

Seattle, WA (Special to HNN) - The Bush Administration committed yet another serious diplomatic mistake last week when it barred Cuba from competing in the inaugural World Baseball Classic. Usually the State Department is responsible for embarrassing U.S. citizens worldwide; this time it is the Treasury Department.

Using sports – or art, music and culture – to retaliate where diplomats fail is unconscionable. President George W. Bush must listen to Philosopher George Santayana who warned that if we do not remember the past, we will be condemned to relive it.

In 1980, White House Counsel Lloyd Cutler told President Carter to boycott the Olympic Games that summer in Moscow and the Soviets would leave Afghanistan.

Hearts were ripped out of our athletes and this country established the worst possible precedent in global sports. The Soviets boycotted the 1984 Los Angeles Games and the U.S. has replaced them in Afghanistan.

Cuba is one of the classic’s 16 invited nations and is scheduled to play Panama on March 8, 2006 in San Juan. Puerto Rico and The Netherlands compete in the same pool and the two top teams advance to Orlando. The event runs from March 3 to March 20.

Baseball became an Olympic sport in 1992 in Atlanta and the Cubans have won three of the four gold medals. Since World Cup competition began in 1938, Cuba has won 25 times, including 12 of the last 13. Its national team has even held its own against Major League Baseball. In 1999, thanks to President Clinton, Cuba played two exhibition games against the Baltimore Orioles, splitting the series.

Olympic officials dropped baseball and softball from competition and this action by our government could doom any possible reinstatement. President Bush must overrule the decision of Treasury Secretary John W. Snow. Otherwise U.S. international sports relations will further suffer irreparable harm. Chances are that other competing teams from the Caribbean and Central America – Venezuela, Dominican Republic, Mexico, and Panama – may retaliate and not participate.

This would only be the beginning. U.S. cities can forget about bidding to host future summer and winter Olympic Games as well as international and world class events. The votes will not be there for the U.S. The same is true for U.S. individuals on track to leadership positions in the all powerful international sports federations. Following the 1980 Moscow boycott, many Americans were passed over. And many of our officials were ignored to judge and referee important international competitions. Now, the U.S. government has again insulted the world of sports.

The U.S. Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico have their own Olympic committees whose athletes regularly compete throughout the region. Governments and people from all Central American and Caribbean countries support Cuba and disagree with U.S. policy.

What if invitations were no longer forthcoming to the athletes in our territories?The current policy could prevent any of our territories from hosting major regional events. How would the White House have reacted in 1991 when Cuba hosted the Pan American Games if President Fidel Castro didn’t allow the U.S. team to participate?

Early in his career Castro was a promising young pitcher. It is said that the Washington Senators nearly signed him to a major league contract. How world history would have changed if Castro threw real baseballs "inside the Beltway."

Politics has no place in international sport. We especially don’t need interference from Washington politicians. It is time to let the games begin!

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Rene A. Henry is an author and public relations counselor who has spent more than 25 years of his professional career in international sports. A native of Charleston,
W.Va. and former sports information director at West Virginia University, he is a fellow of the Public Relations Society of America (PRSA)

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