14ymedio, Havana, 6 October 2023 — “The migration of athletes and coaches has affected us,” acknowledged the general director of High Performance of the National Institute of Sport, Physical Education and Recreation (Inder), José Antonio Miranda, at the Round Table last Tuesday.
From 2022 to September 2023, 191 athletes broke off their relationship with the sports authorities. As of Tuesday, Miranda counted the escape of 78 athletes. As usual for the Cuban authorities, the main cause of the desetions is the American “blockade,” to which he added the “complex economic scenario” that the country is going through.
The official said that “solutions are being sought” to retain athletes. So far these options have been a failure. The same day he talked about the “atypical year” they were having, it was confirmed that baseball player Yobanys Millán escaped from the Hilton Garden Inn hotel in Yucatan (Mexico), where the Alazanes de Granma team stayed while participating in the Baseball Champions League of the Americas (BCL).
Among the strategies to prevent escapes and abandonment, the Cuban Baseball Federation offered 80 players to talent scouts from Japan, South Korea, the Dominican Republic and Ecuador at the beginning of September.
The so-called first international baseball tryout represented a source of income for the Island. It came just as the sports authorities confirmed the suspension of the National U-23 Baseball Series due to the “difficult economic situation facing the country.” The crisis also forced the cancellation of the national championship for 9-10-year olds, the final stage of Baseball 5, the Women’s National Baseball Cup and the U-18 National Championship, which has not even concluded.
Among the Cuban talents in the first tryout was the right-handed pitcher of the Industriales team, Silvano Hechevarría. This 20-year-old habanero, 6 feet 4 inches tall, was followed by the headhunters who attended the Latin American Stadium in Havana, but no specific offer was presented.
Days later, on September 27, Hechevarría boarded a flight to the Dominican Republic, where he will train until he obtains free agency and be able to show himself to headhunters of teams from the Major Leagues of the United States.
“Cuban baseball players continue to leave the country. No possible hope of a contract or of pursuing a career in Cuba keeps them there. Cases like Hechevarría’s are the test,” journalist Francys Romero published in Baseball FR!
The salary for players on the Island is unattractive. In 2020, before the Ordering Task,* a member of the national pre-selection who participates in the National Series receives 3,725 Cuban pesos (19 dollars) monthly; a member of the Reserve of the National Pre-selection and National Series receives 2,400 (12 dollars).
The escape of athletes does not stop. The 11-year-old players, Kendry Enrique Abreu and Mario Serra, who participated in the 2023 Pan American U-12 in Mexico, are in the Dominican Republic, where they seek to perfect their skills to get an opportunity in a U.S. Major League team.
On Wednesday, the arrival in the United States of the Cuban triple jumper Davisleydi Velazco was confirmed. The gold medalist at the U-20 Pan American Games in Peru (2017), the NACAC U-23 championship in Querétaro (Mexico) and the Alba Games in Venezuela (2023) made a 19-day journey.
On the same day, baseball player Franky Quintana left the pre-match hotel, between Cuba and Curaçao, in the Caribbean Baseball Cup in Puerto Rico. With Quintana’s escape, there are 51 Cuban athletes who have left behind contracts or delegations in 2023, said baseball specialist Francys Romero.
Quintana had been selected by Armando Ferrer to reinforce the Cocodrilos de Matanzas in the second edition of the controversial Elite League.
The figures on escapes of Cuban athletes are devastating. In January, the official weekly Trabajadores counted the abandonment of 862 athletes in a decade, of which 635 were baseball players. If the recent data offered by the Inder are added, there are already 1,053 athletes who abandoned the sport.
The general director of Inder High Performance, José Antonio Miranda, said that the escape from the Island happened before the Pan American Games in Chile, which will be held from October 20 to November 5. “That impact has been felt,” he said.
Cuba brings to Chile a very “young” delegation made up of 362 athletes (187 women and 175 men). For “62% of the athletes, this will be their first competition in the Pan American Games,” he said. “This didn’t happen to us in previous cycles.”
Miranda was measured when talking about the medals. “Cuba’s main potential is between 18 and 22 gold medals. On that basis we will be working, although the scenario will decide how far we can fulfill that purpose.”
*Translator’s note: The Ordering Task is a collection of measures that include eliminating the Cuban Convertible Peso (CUC), leaving the Cuban peso (CUP) as the only national currency, raising prices, raising salaries (but not as much as prices), opening stores that take payment only in hard currency, which must be in the form of specially issued pre-paid debit cards, and a broad range of other measures targeted to different elements of the Cuban economy.
Translated by Regina Anavy
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