Fidel praises and cautions Cuban athletes before Olympics

August 5th, 2008 - 7:21 pm ICT by IANS  

Havana, Aug 5 (IANS)Pre-empting a move by Cuban athletes to defect during the Beijing Olympics beginning Friday, Fidel Castro has cautioned them that while people would cherish the “struggle” of those who try to win a medal, they would also remember the “traitors”. “At the Olympics, due to begin on August 8,our athletes in different sports will struggle to win the gold with more dignity than ever, and our people will enjoy their gold medals as they never have,” Castro said in a statement.

He added: “Then the fanatics will remember the traitors.”

Castro’s thoughts were expressed in the latest series of his “Reflections”, an essay on Cuban sportsmen, including those who have defected to the US and other western countries.

“On the eve of the Olympics, the United States, with its mercenary money, bought Alexei Ramirez, who had been the leading home runner of the National Baseball series in our country in 2007,” Castro said.

“Formerly, they had bought the most promising pitcher from the province of Pinar del Ro, Jose Ariel Contreras, thus creating uncertainty and mistrust,” he added.

Olympics and such major international sporting events have often been the favourite hunting ground for some countries to pick up talented athletes and sportsmen from other poorer nations. Star Cuban baseball players and sportsmen have taken such opportunities in the past to defect.

“In Edmonton, Canada, just before the beginning of a match with the team of the host country at the 23rd World Youth Baseball Championship, we learned that the southpaw Noel Arguelles, who would for sure be starting pitcher of the game, and the shortstop Jose Iglesias, with a batting average above 500, were missing,” Castro said.

Fidel, one of the living legends in the world political stage, has been under political, diplomatic and economic pressure from the US for nearly five decades - almost from the time he and his Communist colleagues came down from the mountains of Sierra Maestra to take control of Havana and rest of the country in January 1959.

After running his country with an iron fist for all these years, he retired from the president’s post earlier this year and passed on the baton to his younger brother, Raul Castro.

“Neither of them (US and Japan) is under any economic blockade and both are extremely rich. No one is robbing or plundering them of their athletes,” Castro said in his “Reflections”.

“But the imperialist aggression is not only seen in baseball. Some months ago, part of male soccer team let itself be drawn into an act of betrayal inside the United States, which limited Cuba’s prospects in that sport in the international arena,” he added.

The Cuban leader pointed out: ” A female judo athlete, almost a sure gold medallist, was bribed. Buying our athletes they deprived us from five sure gold medals in Olympic boxing.”

He added, “It is like a call to slaughter against Cuba to steal brains, muscles and bones.”

Fidel’s thoughts in the essay indicate an apprehension over further defection but also an attempt at stemming the rot. He said the Cuban baseball team was in high spirit and had sent him a “vibrant patriotic message” recently. But he acknowledged that they have a tough task ahead as they meet teams from the US and Japan who were trying to use everything in their power to defeat the Cubans.

“But will they be on equal footing with regards to the teams of other rich powers, such as the United States and Japan, which will be competing against Cuba?” Castro wondered in his essay that was one of his recent articles before the Olympic Games

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