HAVANIA – The United States will allow Major League Baseball players from Cuba to compete in the World Baseball Classic next year.
The Baseball Federation of Cuba (FCB) decision, announced Saturday in a news release, could be a significant step toward re-establishing Cuba’s national team as heavy hitters on the international stage.
Major League Baseball confirmed Monday that FCB was granted a licence in the United States. It clears the way for MLB stars like José Abreu, Yordan Alvarez, Randy Arozarena, Yoán Moncada, and Luis Robert to play for Cuba in the World Baseball Classic in March if they accept an invitation.
Each country’s national governing body selects the players for its World Cup team. Final 30-man rosters for the World Baseball Classic, which begins March 8 in Taiwan with Cuba facing the Netherlands, are due on February 7.
While soccer is the most popular sport in much of Latin America, baseball reigns supreme in Cuba. Baseball talent on the island has earned it worldwide acclaim.
However, hundreds of those players have defected from Cuba to play professionally elsewhere in recent years. Most notably, many have become US residents and stars with major league teams in the United States.
The defections are largely the result of a not-uncommon geopolitical spat between the two seaside neighbours, which has left Cuban players caught in the crossfire.
Cuban athletes competing on the island are unable to earn a living due to the communist government’s prohibition of professional sports following the Cuban revolution 60 years ago.
Long-standing US sanctions make it virtually impossible for Cubans to play professionally for an American team without defecting. Meanwhile, Cuba has historically refused to include defected Cuban players on their national team rosters.
Cuba’s performance in international baseball competitions has suffered as a result of the defections. For example, the Cuban baseball team failed to qualify for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics despite years of medal success.
In November, Cuba reversed course and invited several top defectors to represent the country in the World Baseball Classic, a tournament featuring some of the sport’s best players competing in Japan, Taiwan, and the United States.
Cuban officials later accused the Biden administration of preventing those players from representing Cuba.
FCB President Juan Reinaldo Pérez Pardo called the permit a “positive step” in a statement Saturday, adding that the Cuban federation should have more information about the team’s WBC roster once it has more details about the licence granted by the US.
At the same time, Pérez Pardo chastised the United States, tweeting on Saturday that “it is arbitrary and discriminatory that a permit from the government of this country (the United States) is required to attend” the World Cup.