We began Day 3 meeting with representatives from INDER, Cuba Deportes, and the Cuban Baseball Federation at Estadio Latinoamericano, where we discussed the rapid changes that happening in Cuba’s government and its structures involving sports.
For example, the Cuban government recently began experimenting with contracting with foreign baseball leagues to allow some of their players to play overseas. They have also arranged for athletes in other sports such as volleyball, wrestling, and handball to play overseas as well. This has been challenging for the lawyers from the Cuban Government and INDER to adapt to the laws of other countries in order for these arrangements to work.
Under these arrangements, INDER represents the Cuban athlete, and the foreign leagues and teams contract directly with INDER for the athlete’s services. INDER receives 10% of the athlete’s compensation earned playing overseas. It would be an imperfect analogy to say that INDER acts similarly to an American athlete’s agent, because the Cuban athlete himself generally does not have much of a say in who represents him and does not appear to have a say in where exactly he plays overseas. Negotiations are between the foreign leagues and INDER, not directly between the foreign leagues or teams and the player.
The representatives from INDER disclosed that there have been some discussions with Major League Baseball about implementing this system for Cuban players to play in the US, but of course the current economic embargo prevents discussions from going very far at the moment.
The representatives talked more about sports being a basic constitutional right in Cuba. Cuba is the first country in the world to guarantee sports as a basic right to all citizens, ensuring that the government must provide access to sports and recreation to all Cuban citizens. The Cuban government views sports as a “right of the people, not a right of the wealthy.” This includes programs for those with physical disabilities.
Sports and physical education in Cuba begins as soon as 45 days old for most children, and physical education remains a key component of the Cuban education system. As children grow into their teen years, they are selected by their teachers and coaches for their physical ability to be sent to special athletic academies where the child will be groomed to play in a selected sport. From our understanding from our discussion, it would appear that a child may decline to attend the athletic academy and focus on other pursuits if he or she so wished, but we were not all convinced that there wouldn’t be an undue amount of pressure on the child to choose the athletic academy and go on to become a professional athlete.
We spoke with these representatives for almost three hours. They seemed to understand most of the issues that we asked about, but did have trouble understanding a few concepts such as trades and free agency in baseball – two concepts that do not exist in Cuba, because in the Cuban League, a player is bound to play for the team that represents the province that he is from. It was a very rewarding discussion with some of Cuba’s top lawyers in their sports ministries, but it was quite clear from our discussions that, if the American embargo were to be lifted soon, there would still be many cultural and educational hurdles to clear before our countries are able to fully understand each other’s systems and work together seamlessly.
After our discussion, we received a short tour of Estadio Latinoamericano, the largest baseball stadium in Cuba, and this baseball nerd was in Heaven. The stadium is the home field of both the Cuban National Team and the Industriales, Cuba’s most famous professional team. We were able to sit in the dugout and walk around on the most storied field in Cuban baseball. One of the very, very few disappointments of this trip to Havana has been that the Cuban National Team is currently playing in the Premier 12 tournament in Japan and South Korea, and so the Cuban National Series is on a break this week, meaning that I will not have the opportunity to actually see a game.
After our tour, we were invited to meet a few legends of Cuban baseball, including Rodolfo Puente and Yovani Aragon. We talked with these former players about the current state of baseball in Cuba, and the exciting opportunities that an improved relationship with the United States and Major League Baseball can provide. It is clear that Cubans firmly believe that their players are some of the best in the world, and that they deserve a chance to regularly prove that in the United States.
From the stadium, we were treated to lunch at another fantastic paladar with live music and entertainment. We spent the afternoon driving out to Ernest Hemingway’s Havana home, which was another great experience and history lesson. Hemingway was an incredibly complex figure and many of the myths about him have persisted long enough to become fact. A tour of his home offered an amazing glimpse into his eccentricity and complexity, and it was quite humbling to see the place and his fishing boat that inspired such classic American literature. We then spent the evening after dinner at a Cuban jazz club.
All in all, another great day learning and interacting with Cuban lawyers and representatives and enjoying more of what Havana has to offer.