HAVANA (AP) — The United States will allow Major League Baseball players from Cuba to represent their home country in next year’s World Baseball Classic.
The decision, announced by the Cuban Baseball Federation (FCB) at a news conference on Saturday, could be an important step for the Cuban national team to once again become a heavy hitter on the international stage.
Major League Baseball confirmed on Monday that the United States granted the license to the FCB. MLB stars such as José Abreu, Yordan Alvarez, Randy Arozarena, Yoán Moncada and Luis Robert will represent Cuba in the WBC in March if they choose to accept potential invitations.
Players for their WBC teams are selected by each country’s national governing body. The WBC’s final 30-man roster is due on February 7 and the WBC begins on March 8 with Cuba taking on the Netherlands in Taiwan.
While football is the sport of choice in much of Latin America, baseball dominates in Cuba. The island is known the world over for its baseball talent.
But in recent years, hundreds of players have defected from Cuba to play professionally elsewhere.Most notably, many have become U.S. residents and stars on major league teams
The defection is largely due to the not uncommon geopolitical dispute between the two seaside neighbours, leaving Cuban players caught in the middle.
Under the Communist government that banned professional sports after the Cuban Revolution 60 years ago, Cuban athletes competing on the island were not paid a salary.
Longstanding U.S. sanctions have made it virtually impossible for Cubans to play professionally for Team USA without defecting. Cuba, meanwhile, has historically not allowed defecting Cuban players on its national team roster.
The defection took a toll on Cuba’s performance in international baseball. For example, the Cuban baseball team has won medals in the sport for many years but failed to qualify for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.
In November, Cuba reversed course and invited several of its top defectors to represent the country in the World Baseball Classic, with some of the tournament’s top players playing in Japan, Taiwan and the United States
Weeks later, Cuban officials accused the Biden administration of preventing the players from representing Cuba.
In a statement on Saturday, FCB President Juan Reynaldo Pérez Pardo called the license a “positive step” and said that once the Cuban Football Federation has more information about the license granted by the United States more details, more information about the team’s WBC roster should be available
Meanwhile, Perez Pardo also criticized the U.S., tweeting on Saturday that “requiring permission from the government of this country to participate” in the WBC is “arbitrary and discriminatory.”
Associated Press baseball writer Mike Fitzpatrick in New York contributed to this report.
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