Wednesday, September 03, 2008

Sports and Statecraft .....

It won't be the first time that 'athletes go where politicians fear to tread' as U.S. soccer players travel to La Rep├║blica de Cuba.

"The United States national team has not played in Cuba since 1947," the New York Times' Jack Bell writes, noting that while a US U-21 team did participate in the Pan American Games there in 1991, "an economic, commercial, travel and financial embargo imposed on Fidel Castro’s Cuba in February 1962 remains in effect to varying degrees, and American citizens still face travel restrictions." Read the rest of Bell's report HERE.

Not a bad way, really, to sort out our differences and find common ground. I have wondered more than once how and why our nation can so readily and happily deal with the largest and most powerful Communist nation in the world ... yet continue to punish this tiny, backward island nation in every conceivable way. Even when Cuba offered to send hundreds of doctors and nurses to New Orleans in Katrina's wake - professionals specially trained for emergency medical care in areas devestated by hurricanes and/or poverty - they were rejected by our government, and scolded by the White House press secretary.

If the politicians can't sort it out, maybe the athletes can. They DO love their sports in Cuba. While the story of Fidel Castro trying out for MLB's Washington Senators was shown to be false, he was a great fan of the sport, and Cuba continues to be one of the top contributors among foreign nations to our major league baseball system. I remember a bull-session we had once in college, where a professor suggested that the most effective way to wean Cuba from Communism might be to open a major league baseball franchise in Havana, providing a piece of that franchise - and its concessions, and its merchandising - to the various party leaders. A healthy dose of athletic competition and a taste of capitalism, he went on to say, might be just what our strained relations needed.

It's a taste that could be very, VERY attractive, if not downright intoxicating ...

"Although all the United States players are expected to return home," Bell writes, "that may not be the case when Cuba goes to Washington for the return qualifying match October 11. As recently as last March, a handful of Cuban players left the team and requested asylum during the regional Olympic qualifying tournament in Florida."

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