At least 11 members of the U-23 Cuban baseball team defected in Mexico before, during and after the World Cup in Sonora.
According to varying reports, 11 or 12 of 24 players abandoned the team, which finished fourth at the September 23-October 2 event held in Hermosillo and Ciudad Obregón.
It is one of Cuba’s largest defections in recent years and seen as a great embarrassment for the island nation. Mass defections of Cuban athletes were common during the 1990s when Cuba was in a so-called “special period” following the collapse of the Soviet Union but have been less frequent in more recent years.
Cuba’s National Institute of Sports, Physical Education and Recreation (INDER) excoriated the defectors, asserting they have “weak morals and ethics.”
“Is it so difficult to learn, from the cradle, that one doesn’t pursue dreams or personal projects by putting universal values such as commitment, responsibility and patriotism to one side?” INDER asked in its official magazine.
Cuban officials apportioned blame to the United States, noting that the U.S. has restrictions that force Cuban baseball players to defect in order to qualify to play in the major leagues. At least one young Cuban ballplayer, Luía Mejías, has already entered the United States, according to media reports.
Players who remain in Mexico could also seek asylum in the United States to pursue a professional baseball career. Their teammates who remain loyal to their homeland left Mexico on Monday.