Cuban cricket team caught out by US ban

More than a century ago, a young war correspondent called Winston Churchill was dispatched to Cuba by the Daily Graphic to cover the conflict with Spain. He noted that Britain briefly occupied the island in 1762 and wrote: ”It may be that future years will see the island as it would be now, had England never lost it — a Cuba free and prosperous under just laws and patriotic administration, throwing open her ports to the commerce of the world, sending her ponies to Hurlingham and her cricketers to Lord’s.”

Next month, Cuba was due to take a big step on the way to Lord’s by playing in an international cricket competition for the first time. This week, however, the United States government has blocked Cuba’s participation because an American is sponsoring the tournament in Antigua. He would face heavy fines from the federal authorities if he proceeded.

Antigua-based businessman Allen Stanford announced on Thursday that he would not now be able to welcome Cuba. ”We have been anxious to include the entire Caribbean in the Stanford 20/20 tournament and I am extremely disappointed that Cuba will not be able to play,” he said in a statement. ”We are requesting that the denial from the US government be reconsidered and we are exploring every option to secure their future participation.”

Cuba was moving to embrace cricket as a national sport, a move with diplomatic implications. The interest has been encouraged by the British Foreign Office, India and the other Caribbean nations, who will be dismayed by the US’s unilateral action.

”It started when our name got to the notice of the FCO and UK Sport,” said Tom Rodwell of the London Community Cricket Association. The Foreign Office had heard of the work the association had done to bring cricket to parts of the world it did not usually reach. ”There was a memorandum of understanding with Cuba to collaborate on sport. They would help us with boxing — which they are very good at — athletics and basketball and they were scouting round for a sport we could help with and came up with cricket.”

Rodwell took a team to Cuba and a game was arranged with a team of ex-pats and locals. ”There was a lot of interest, a crowd of about 200 to 300 showed up,” he said. ”Some of the Cubans are turning out to be very good bowlers although the batting was not so hot.”

Cuba made cricket an official sport in 2006. ”Fidel is in favour — and he’s got that WG Grace beard, hasn’t he?” said Rodwell.

Cricket has a lengthy history on the island. In the 20s and 30s, migrant cane-cutters from elsewhere in the Caribbean went to work in the sugar fields of Cuba, setting up leagues in Guantánamo and Santiago. That tradition lingered on through the revolution to the present day. Earlier this year, it was announced that former India all-rounder Robin Singh would coach on the island.

There is a further political aspect to the promotion of the game in that it links Cuba closer to its cricket-playing Caribbean neighbours at a time when the United States is still trying to isolate the country with its blockade.

Fidel Castro, a handy baseball pitcher in his youth, once proclaimed that ”one day when the Yankees accept peaceful co-existence with our own country, we shall beat them at baseball too and then the advantages of revolutionary over capitalist sport will be shown”.

Whether cricket can be put to that purpose remains to be seen. – Guardian Unlimited Â

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