Cuba Reverses Ban on Athletes Signing Professional Contracts in Foreign Leagues

Tim Daniels@TimDanielsBRFeatured ColumnistSeptember 27, 2013

Athletes from Cuba will now be allowed to compete in professional sports leagues of other nations as long as they continue to participate in home commitments. The decision marks the apparent end of decades where strict restrictions were in place.

Anne-Marie Garcia of the Associated Press reports Cuba announced the move with hope players, particularly those who have enough talent to compete in Major League Baseball, will then return to represent the national teams instead of defecting.

The impact the new stance will have on players' ability to take part in American leagues remains a question mark, however.

The measure promises to greatly 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 at home or under U.S. laws that restrict money transfers to the communist-led island.

The report also gave the Treasury Department's stance on the issue, which throws more doubt on the decision's impact. 

"A change in Cuban laws does not affect our licensing procedure," said John Sullivan, spokesman for the Treasury Department's Office of Foreign Assets Control, which enforces limits on transferring money to Cuba.

The AP report points to Los Angeles Dodgers rising star Yasiel Puig as a recent example of a player who defected from Cuba in order to make the jump to Major League Baseball.

TOKYO, JAPAN - MARCH 11: Infielder Jose Abreu #79 of Cuba celerates after scoring in the top half of the fourth inning during the World Baseball Classic Second Round Pool 1 game between Cuba and the Netherlands at Tokyo Dome on March 11, 2013 in Tokyo, Ja
Koji Watanabe/Getty Images

Craig Calcaterra of Hardball Talk tells us a bit about what this decision will mean:

It is unclear how this affects baseball players coming to play in the United States beyond the issue of taxes, but one can only assume that this move is designed in large part to address them given the primacy of baseball in Cuba and the embarrassment to the government engendered by its biggest star athletes fleeing the country to play. Yasiel Puig has become a sensation. Yoenis Cespedes before that.

Although baseball players will be the main focal point coming out of the announcement, the agreement will allow athletes from every sport to move abroad to hone their skills. It's an intriguing option that was rarely available in the past.

ANAHEIM, CA - SEPTEMBER 25:  Yoenis Cespedes #52 of the Oakland Athletics bats against the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim at Angel Stadium of Anaheim on September 25, 2013 in Anaheim, California.  (Photo by Jeff Gross/Getty Images)
Jeff Gross/Getty Images

It's going to take some time before the results of the decision start to show. That said, it sounds like a good idea for the Cuban national teams. By allowing their athletes to compete in top leagues in other countries, they should be able to raise their level of play for international competitions.

Exactly how many athletes this could impact at the outset remains unclear. But now that leaving the nation to compete is an option, sports could become a more compelling choice, once again helping improve the national teams.

So, while it could take some time for the entire plan to get rolled out, especially with questions about playing in countries like the U.S., it ultimately seems like a step in the right direction.