In the two games played for the Central-North American qualifiers for the 2022 World Cup, the players’ summons from the foreign leagues did not serve to avoid two defeats against Curacao (1-2) and Guatemala (0-1), but their return seems to be more oriented to a long-term project.
After years of slow normalization of relations between Cuban state bodies and its expatriate athletes, the local national football team has in fact been able to choose from all its best players available, something it has never been able to do until now. Cuba is currently 180th in the FIFA ranking, which has 210 associations. Despite its approximately 11 million inhabitants and its deep-rooted sporting tradition, it is located between Puerto Rico (3 million inhabitants) and Liechtenstein (just 38 thousand) and has not participated in the final phase of a World Cup since 1938, when it stopped in the quarterfinals. of final.
The local federation has not provided any explanation regarding the choice to call up players from abroad for the first time. Many have wondered why it happened right now and the most plausible answer is that, hand in hand with the relaxation of relations with its athletes, the prospect of a World Cup, that of 2026, open to 48 teams and hosted in Mexico , The United States and Canada may have prompted the federation to find a way to qualify after all these years.
Expatriation and real escapes abroad have marked the last half century of Cuban sport. Former leader Fidel Castro banned professionalism in 1961, which devalued contracts and compensation and prompted many of the best athletes of the latest generations to flee abroad or desert, making them lose track during authorized trips abroad.
In baseball, for example – a national sport in which Cuba has won three Olympic gold medals – the restrictions have resulted in the impoverishment of the local league. To stem the flight of players, in 2013 Raul Castro’s government allowed Cuban players to move abroad as long as they paid 20 percent tax on their wages and returned for the start of the national championship in the winter. In recent decades there have been 218 Cubans in the American Major League, not counting all those who have been and still are in the United States without a team.
The defections of Cuban athletes also involved Italy. Volleyball player Osmany Juantorena, who has represented Italy since 2015 after obtaining citizenship, spent almost three years without being able to play due to the veto imposed by the Cuban federation, which contested the modalities of his transfer. Even more famous was the case of Taismary Aguero, also a volleyball player, who arrived in Italy in 1998 thanks to the permits granted at the time by Cuba, but who refused to return when, in 2001, the federation recalled all the athletes to her homeland. Because of her decision not to return, in 2007 Cuba denied her permission to visit her sick mother. Only after the death of his mother was Aguero granted a visa to return.
Now, the first call-up of Cuban footballers from abroad could become a custom and also concern other sports, also because they are not athletes who have fled or remained abroad knowingly, but mainly second generations born abroad to Cuban parents or expatriates with families as children. Hernandez, for example, is the first Cuban footballer to have played and scored a goal in the Premier League. He moved with his family to Germany when he was three and had always expressed a desire to represent Cuba, which he was able to do at the age of 28.
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