Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Cuba: WBC Shouldn't Substitute for Games

Thw Washington Post

By ANNE-MARIE GARCIA
The Associated Press
Wednesday, September 27, 2006; 6:40 PM

HAVANA -- The World Baseball Classic was an important step in baseball's international development but is no consolation for the elimination of the sport from the Olympics, the president of Cuba's Olympic Committee said.

Jose Ramon Fernandez urged the International Baseball Federation to unite all its forces in the fight to get baseball back on the Olympic roster.

"The Classic can not be a substitute for baseball in the Olympics," Fernandez, also a vice president in Cuba, told The Associated Press on Tuesday in an interview at the Council of Ministers headquarters.

The International Olympics Committee eliminated baseball and softball from the 2012 London Olympics during a vote last year. Cuba, which considers baseball its national sport, vigorously protested the decision to drop baseball from the Olympic program.

The committee will review baseball's success during the 2008 Beijing Olympics and the next World Classic when it meets in 2009 to decide if baseball will return to the 2016 Olympic program.

Cuba won the gold medal for baseball in the Olympic Games in 2004, 1996 and 1992. It fell to Japan in the final of the inaugural World Baseball Classic in March.

The island is "taking the initial steps to negotiate" its participation in the next edition of the Classic in 2009, Fernandez said.

But the island's powerhouse baseball program recently received "a wake-up call," Fernandez said, with high-profile defeats to the United States in the Americas qualifier for the Olympics and a youth world championship, both held in Cuba.

"We have weaknesses in pitching ... and many other things, and we know we have to work a lot harder," he said. "But the team is good, and there are young people who are already great ball players. For this reason we will keep aspiring to all the baseball titles."

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