Friday, December 23, 2005

Cuba Offers to Play Baseball for Katrina Victims

Thu Dec 22, 2005 10:41 PM ET

HAVANA (Reuters) - Cuba said on Thursday it would donate its revenues from a world baseball tournament to Hurricane Katrina victims if the Bush administration reverses a controversial decision to bar Cuba's participation.

"The Cuban baseball federation, in an effort to find options, would be ready for the money corresponding to its participation in the classic to go to the victims of Hurricane Katrina left homeless in New Orleans," the federation said in a letter to U.S. Major League Baseball sent a week ago and released on Thursday.

The United States denied Major League Baseball a license that would allow Cuba to play in the inaugural World Baseball Classic in March on the grounds Cuba would reap the 1 percent of tournament revenues due each participant and 5 percent if it won.

Cuba on Thursday labeled the Bush administration's position as "shameful" and "absurd" and "having nothing to do with sports."

The decision also brought protests from the U.S. Olympic Committee, Major League Baseball, numerous politicians and others.

Puerto Rico's baseball federation announced on Thursday it would not host games if the Cubans were not allowed to participate.

The World Baseball Classic is an 18-day, 16-team World Cup-style tournament scheduled to begin on March 3 that will bring together some of the world's best baseball players on teams representing their home countries.

Cuban President Fidel Castro, an ideological foe of the United States for more than 40 years, had given the go-ahead for his Communist nation to participate.

But Cuba would have needed a special license from the U.S. Treasury Department's Office of Foreign Assets Control, which enforces the U.S. economic embargo against Cuba.

The Treasury Department refused to grant the license.

"Generally speaking, the Cuba embargo prohibits entering into contracts in which Cuba or Cuban nationals have an interest," Treasury spokeswoman Molly Millerwise said in a written statement.

The tournament starts in Tokyo and ends in San Diego and many of the games will be played in the United States, which has been a magnet for the defection of a host of Cuba's best players seeking multimillion-dollar big-league contracts.

Despite the drain of talent, Cuba won the gold medal for baseball at the 1992, 1996 and 2004 Olympics, falling to the United States in the finals at the 2000 Games.

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