Sunday, January 22, 2006

"Sports should be separate from politics"

Now that Cuba has been granted a license by the Treasury Dept. to send its baseball team to the United States for the World Baseball classic the debate should be dead. But during the debate, I encountered the above quote many times and it left a bad taste in my mouth. People that don't have a vested interest in Cuba's freedom want to compartmentalize the political aspect of international sport. But the two can never be separated. When you put on a uniform with your country's name across your chest you represent that country and all its policies, good and bad.

Certain people have selfish motives for wanting Cuba in this tournament. As a baseball fan I know that Cuba has a baseball playing pedigree that would normally automatically qualify it to play in any international series. After all baseball isn't the universal sport that soccer or even basketball is. So baseball fans who don't care about Cuba would want to see the best teams participating regardless of the politics. This, to me, is very short sighted and extrememly selfish, it's an attitude of "the show must go on regardless of who gets hurt."

The situation with the World Baseball Classic also gives us insight into how irrelevant the Cuban tragedy is to most Americans. There have been been plenty of precedents for allowing politics to change the size and scope of international tournaments, most notably in the Olympics. Below is a brief and partial summary of such occasions, courtesy of

1948 Germany and Japan were not invited due to their roles in World War II.

1952 Taiwan withdrew in protest that the Peoples Republic of China was permitted to compete.

1956 Egypt, Iraq and Lebanon did not take partDue to the Israeli-led take-over of the Suez canal Spain and Switzerland boycotted the Games as well, in protest of the Soviet invasion of Hungary.

1960 South Africa was banned from the Olympic Games due to its political policy of Apartheid. That country would not be allowed to compete again until 1992.

1980 A number of non-communist nations decided to impose a boycott for the Moscow Games as a result of the USSR's invasion of Afghanistan.
In each of these situations politics and sports could not be untwined. And for the most part one can undertand that they shouldn't have been. After all how right is it to allow an apartheid regime a global platform upon which to propagandize itself? Should we be a playing a game with a country that invaded its neighbors?

Hell, in 1976, 25 African countries boycotted the Olympics because New Zealand was being allowed to play. New Zealand's crime was one of association. A rugby team from New Zealand had been hosted on a tour of South Africa. That's all. At the time, Kenya's foreign minister, James Osogo, said: "The government and the people of Kenya hold the view that principles are more precious than medals." He said the decision by the IOC not to ban New Zealand would give "comfort and respectability to the South African racist regime and encourage it to continue to defy world opinion."

Remember this was New Zealand not South Africa whose participation Osogo was protesting. Oh how I wish there were some more people with the testicular fortitude to say those words about fidel castro and his murderous regime.

The fact is that for some reason castro's crimes don't rise up to the level of those of other dictatorships in the eyes of most people. Of course I know it's because the media has painted fidel as a benevolent dictator and most people are too interested in Desperate Housewives or Brokeback Mountain to care about what is happening to 11 million people just 90 miles away from our shores. They'd rather make sure their tournament goes off with a snag than punish the Cuban government for its transgressions.

Here's a hypothetical. You line up on the field to play football and across from you is a guy who wronged you off the field. Maybe he slept with your wife, maybe he raped your daughter and got off on a technicality, maybe stole your wallet but you could never prove it. Are you going to tell me that you are going to keep the sports element compartmentalized?

So now that the decision has been made, we who value the freedom of Cuba must make lemonade from these lemons we've been dealt. We need to make the World Baseball Classic a platform from which OUR MESSAGE will be heard rather than castro's.

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