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Cuba Lifts Decades-Old Ban on Playing Pro Ball Outside Nation

If sports has any effect on the politics of a nation as liberal sports columnists like to say, than this is pretty huge news.  With professional leagues banned for decades, any solid baseball player in Cuba has to play for the Cuban national team. So, for decades, the common practice for any big-name Cuban ball player who wanted come to America and play Major Leauge Baseball was to find a way to defect.

Once upon a time, the entire Cuban National Team defected when it was playing a series of exhibition games in Miami.  At one time, the defections got so bad, top Cuban talent would have round-the-clock security just to ensure they wouldn’t be able to defect and leave the Cuban National team.

Mind you, this doesn’t just apply to baseball, but soccer, volleyball (pretty big in Cuba) and any other team sports.  Baseball gets all the press because it’s the only sport where most of these players will go on to get big-money contracts.  The most recent high-profile Cuban deflection is L.A. Dodgers phenom Yasiel Puig.

Cuba announced Friday that its athletes will be allowed to sign contracts to compete in foreign leagues, a shift from decades of policy that held professional sports to be anathema to socialist ideals.

The measure promises to increase the amount of money baseball players and others are able to earn, and seems geared toward stemming a continuing wave of defections by athletes who are lured abroad by the possibility of lucrative contracts, sapping talent from national squads.

It was not immediately clear if the ruling would let Cuban baseball players jump to the U.S. major leagues without restrictions imposed by local or U.S. government policies.

Cuban athletes will have to pay taxes on any earnings from foreign clubs, and the 51-year-old U.S. embargo outlaws nearly all American transactions with the Cuban government.

Unfortunately, the American embargo on Cuba bars those who do defect from sending money to any remaining family members in Cuba.  Still, this change of rules in Cuba under Raul Castro is light-years ahead of anything Fidel ever did let talented Cuban athletes do when he ran the island.

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