Saturday, December 17, 2005

MLB Undeterred in Bid to Include Cuba

Officials to 'exhaust all avenues' before denying WBC chance

12/16/2005 5:45 PM ET

By Barry M. Bloom / MLB.com

Major League Baseball will continue its pursuit of having Cuba participate in the inaugural World Baseball Classic in March despite an adverse ruling this week by the U.S. Treasury Department, MLB's top official in charge of the tournament said on Friday. "Right now, we're trying to get our arms around the decision and address those concerns," said Paul Archey, MLB's vice president of international business
operations. "At some point, we'll apply for another license and address the concerns that [the Treasury Dept.] expressed."

Archey said that though time is getting short before the start of the tournament, which runs from March 3-20 in the U.S., Puerto Rico and Japan, MLB intends to "exhaust all avenues to have Cuba participate" before taking an alternate route.

If Cuba can't participate, either Nicaragua or Colombia would replace Cuba in Pool C, which also includes Puerto Rico, Panama and the Netherlands. Cuba's first game is scheduled against Panama on March 8 in San Juan's Hiram Bithorn Stadium.

"There are other plans already in motion," Archey said. "But we won't even look at that until we exhaust all avenues to have Cuba participate."

Two teams will reach the second round, and those games will also be played in Puerto Rico, which is a territory of the U.S. The only instance in which Cuba would have to travel to the U.S. mainland would be for the semifinals and finals, which are in San Diego's PETCO Park on March 18-20.

The Treasury Dept. ostensibly rejected a license for Cuba to participate because the long-standing economic embargo of that island nation "prohibits entering into contracts in which Cuba or Cuban nationals have an interest," a spokesman for that department told the New York Times in Friday's editions.

But any financial remuneration gained by the Cubans from the tournament would be only to support the growth of baseball and the organizations that support baseball in that country.

By stipulation of the agreement reached between MLB, the MLB Players Association and International Baseball Federation (IBAF), the IBAF and participating national baseball federations will receive 52 percent of the tournament's profits, with shares divided and distributed to each federation based on their performance in the tournament.

A minimum of 50 percent of the profits distributed to those federations must be devoted to grassroots baseball development in their respective countries. The remaining 48 percent of profits must be divided among the professional organizations involved in conducting the tournament.

In the weeks ahead, MLB will work with various departments of the government, including the State Dept., before re-filing the license.
"I'm not really sure why [the Treasury Dept.] is making these objections," Archey said. "That's what we're trying to get our arms around."

Cuba is the last of the 16 countries and territories that had yet to officially accept an invitation extended this past June by World Baseball Classic, Inc. Japan accepted its bid after agreement came from the Nippon Baseball Players Association on Sept. 16.

Recent statements made earlier this month by Cuban president Fidel Castro seemed to indicate that Cuba would participate. "We will participate and demonstrate that we know what to do in baseball," Castro told Panamanian reporters visiting Havana, which will host next summer's Americas Olympic Qualifying event in which the U.S. is scheduled to participate.

Cuba is the preeminent baseball power on the international scene and the winner of three of the four Olympic gold medals since baseball became a medal sport in 1992. It was the winner of the gold medal at the 2004 Olympics in Athens, Greece, and the 2004 IBAF World Cup in the Netherlands. The Cubans have won the latter tournament 25 times since its inception in 1938. The IBAF World Cup is now played on a bi-annual basis, and Cuba has won 12 of the past 13 gold medals dating back to 1976 (South Korea won in 1982).

Cuba has never competed against MLB players at the international tournament level. The closest it came was splitting a pair of exhibition games against the Baltimore Orioles in 1999, losing in Havana and winning at Camden Yards.

For that single game in Baltimore, the Clinton administration allowed Cuba to play in the U.S., but no financial consideration was offered to the Cubans, Orioles owner Peter Angelos told the New York Times.

Barry M. Bloom is a national reporter for MLB.com.

The Associated Press contributed.

This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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