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Cuban revolution – Cuba embraces pro soccer after years out in the cold

Cuban revolution: Cuba embraces pro soccer after years out in the cold
Euan McTear, CNN
Updated 1304 GMT (2104 HKT) March 1, 2016

In 1999, the Cuban FA thought it had found a solution to giving its home
players overseas experience without the need for overseas professional
contracts. That year, it loaned the entire Cuban national team to German
fourth division club Bonner SC. Cuba sent 15 players, two coaches, an
interpreter, a masseur and a chef to the German club for free in an
attempt to raise the skill level of its players. With the federation
demanding all players remain amateur, Bonner owner Hans-Robert Viol
happily accepted an offer that would cost him no more than the price of
their accommodation and food, plus some balls, boots and kit which were
sent over as a gift to Cuba. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the arrangement was
not a success. The German press blasted the move, nicknaming the club FC
Fidel, and the district president denied the players the required visas.
No more attempts were made by the Cuban FA to control the transfer of
players abroad until now.

Although the prospect of going overseas is seen by many as a chance for
the national team to improve, football historian Mario Lara sounds a
note of caution. “Although there’s no doubt that having players in
competitive leagues should raise the level of those players, I don’t
believe that this will be the magic wand that everyone is hoping for to
raise the level of the national team,” he said. He cited the need to
improve the domestic championship, build more and better pitches, and
reduce any corruption within the sport.

Cuba has long had a sporting pedigree. Recognized as one of the world’s
best baseball teams, its men have won Olympic gold three times — most
recently in 2004.

Many Cubans have defected in order to play in Major League Baseball
(MLB). In December 2015, some returned to their homeland as part of a
goodwill tour following the recent thaw in relations between the U.S.
and Cuba. Cubans Alexei Ramirez, Jose Dariel Abreu, Brian Pena and
Yasiel Puig were among the multinational group.

The group met fans at the Latin American Stadium in Havana. Here,
Venezuela’s Miguel Cabrera signs autographs.

Cuba also has a formidable reputation in the world of boxing. It has won
34 gold medals at the Olympics over the years — Roniel Iglesias being
one of two fighters to win a title at London 2012 — and the country has
recently permitted some boxers to enter the ring as professionals.

However, Cuba’s national football team has not played at the World Cup
since 1938. Last year, it was eliminated from qualifying for the 2018
finals.

The transfer of Maykel Reyes (pictured) and Abel Martinez to Mexican
club Cruz Azul is a landmark for Cuban football. They are the first
players from the country to legally sign a professional football
contract since Fidel Castro’s government outlawed professionalism in 1961.

Long prevented from signing a pro deal overseas, the fortunes for Cuban
players changed in 2013 just as long as taxes were paid back to the
island’s government on any income.

Castro, pictured left with Argentine Marxist revolutionary Che Guevara,
swept to power in 1959 after his 26th of July Movement overthrew the
U.S.-backed authoritarian government of Cuban President Fulgencio
Batista. It became the Communist Party in 1965 and remains in power to
this day.

Ravaged by poor health, Castro handed power to his brother Raul in 2008.
Now 89, he is rarely seen in public, with some media outlets claiming he
has passed away. Raul’s reign has seen a softening of relations with the
West, and a reopening of diplomatic relations with the U.S. in 2015.

Prior to 2013, many Cubans defected in order to play professionally
abroad. At least 30 have done so since 1999, including Yordany Alvarez
— pictured left in 2012 playing for U.S. Major League Soccer team Real
Salt Lake.

Alvarez and Osvaldo Alonso (pictured) took advantage of the “wet foot,
dry foot” policy adopted under former U.S. president Bill Clinton. Those
intercepted trying to reach the U.S. via water from Cuba are returned
home, while those who make it to American soil are offered a chance to
remain. Alonso defected in 2007 and now plays for Seattle Sounders.

In 1999, the Cuban FA thought it had found a solution to giving its home
players overseas experience without the need for overseas professional
contracts. That year, it loaned the entire Cuban national team to German
fourth division club Bonner SC. Cuba sent 15 players, two coaches, an
interpreter, a masseur and a chef to the German club for free in an
attempt to raise the skill level of its players. With the federation
demanding all players remain amateur, Bonner owner Hans-Robert Viol
happily accepted an offer that would cost him no more than the price of
their accommodation and food, plus some balls, boots and kit which were
sent over as a gift to Cuba. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the arrangement was
not a success. The German press blasted the move, nicknaming the club FC
Fidel, and the district president denied the players the required visas.
No more attempts were made by the Cuban FA to control the transfer of
players abroad until now.

Although the prospect of going overseas is seen by many as a chance for
the national team to improve, football historian Mario Lara sounds a
note of caution. “Although there’s no doubt that having players in
competitive leagues should raise the level of those players, I don’t
believe that this will be the magic wand that everyone is hoping for to
raise the level of the national team,” he said. He cited the need to
improve the domestic championship, build more and better pitches, and
reduce any corruption within the sport.

Cuba has long had a sporting pedigree. Recognized as one of the world’s
best baseball teams, its men have won Olympic gold three times — most
recently in 2004.

Many Cubans have defected in order to play in Major League Baseball
(MLB). In December 2015, some returned to their homeland as part of a
goodwill tour following the recent thaw in relations between the U.S.
and Cuba. Cubans Alexei Ramirez, Jose Dariel Abreu, Brian Pena and
Yasiel Puig were among the multinational group.

The group met fans at the Latin American Stadium in Havana. Here,
Venezuela’s Miguel Cabrera signs autographs.

Cuba also has a formidable reputation in the world of boxing. It has won
34 gold medals at the Olympics over the years — Roniel Iglesias being
one of two fighters to win a title at London 2012 — and the country has
recently permitted some boxers to enter the ring as professionals.

However, Cuba’s national football team has not played at the World Cup
since 1938. Last year, it was eliminated from qualifying for the 2018
finals.

The transfer of Maykel Reyes (pictured) and Abel Martinez to Mexican
club Cruz Azul is a landmark for Cuban football. They are the first
players from the country to legally sign a professional football
contract since Fidel Castro’s government outlawed professionalism in 1961.

Long prevented from signing a pro deal overseas, the fortunes for Cuban
players changed in 2013 just as long as taxes were paid back to the
island’s government on any income.

Castro, pictured left with Argentine Marxist revolutionary Che Guevara,
swept to power in 1959 after his 26th of July Movement overthrew the
U.S.-backed authoritarian government of Cuban President Fulgencio
Batista. It became the Communist Party in 1965 and remains in power to
this day.

Ravaged by poor health, Castro handed power to his brother Raul in 2008.
Now 89, he is rarely seen in public, with some media outlets claiming he
has passed away. Raul’s reign has seen a softening of relations with the
West, and a reopening of diplomatic relations with the U.S. in 2015.

Prior to 2013, many Cubans defected in order to play professionally
abroad. At least 30 have done so since 1999, including Yordany Alvarez
— pictured left in 2012 playing for U.S. Major League Soccer team Real
Salt Lake.

Alvarez and Osvaldo Alonso (pictured) took advantage of the “wet foot,
dry foot” policy adopted under former U.S. president Bill Clinton. Those
intercepted trying to reach the U.S. via water from Cuba are returned
home, while those who make it to American soil are offered a chance to
remain. Alonso defected in 2007 and now plays for Seattle Sounders.

In 1999, the Cuban FA thought it had found a solution to giving its home
players overseas experience without the need for overseas professional
contracts. That year, it loaned the entire Cuban national team to German
fourth division club Bonner SC. Cuba sent 15 players, two coaches, an
interpreter, a masseur and a chef to the German club for free in an
attempt to raise the skill level of its players. With the federation
demanding all players remain amateur, Bonner owner Hans-Robert Viol
happily accepted an offer that would cost him no more than the price of
their accommodation and food, plus some balls, boots and kit which were
sent over as a gift to Cuba. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the arrangement was
not a success. The German press blasted the move, nicknaming the club FC
Fidel, and the district president denied the players the required visas.
No more attempts were made by the Cuban FA to control the transfer of
players abroad until now.

(CNN)The obscurity of Mexican football’s third division is not exactly
the place to start a revolution but Cuban football fans are hoping one
began there on Saturday.

When Cuban international Maykel Reyes played the second half for Cruz
Azul Premier that day, he made history.

In front of 300 fans in the city of Texcoco, the 22-year-old became the
first Cuban professional in more than half a century to play football
with the backing of his government.

Since the concept of signing a professional sports contract was outlawed
by Fidel Castro’s communist regime in 1961, Cuban footballers who have
played professionally have done so without the blessing of the country’s
football association.

“It is historic because of the motivational boost it will give to new
generations of Cuban players,” Mario Lara, a Cuban football historian,
told CNN.

“They won’t see the possibility of fulfilling their dreams of playing
professionally as so remote.”

In years gone by, those Cubans who have yearned to make it as top-level
footballers have resorted to all kinds of measures to escape the amateur
league back home.

Since 1999, no fewer than 30 players have defected to the United States
during away trips to North America on national team duty, from taking
flight via the hotel fire escape to sneaking away on a pre-game shopping
trip.

All took advantage of former U.S. President Bill Clinton’s “wet foot,
dry foot” immigration policy whereby any Cuban to set foot on American
soil would be given asylum.

Among them were Osvaldo Alonso who plays for the Seattle Sounders of
Major League Soccer (MLS) and Yordany Álvarez, who played for Real Salt
Lake in the same league.

Two years after the Cuban Revolution of 1959, Castro outlawed
professional sport.

Source: Cuba embraces professional football after years in cold –
CNN.com –
edition.cnn.com/2016/03/01/football/cuban-professional-football-players-mexico/index.html?eref=rss_latest

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