Friday, August 25|
Athletes told to disregard personal glory
HAVANA -- Declaring collective dignity more valuable than
personal glory, Foreign Minister Felipe Perez Roque exhorted Cuba's
Olympic team members not to sell out to those who tempt them with
money to desert their country.
"Personal glory is fleeting," Perez Roque said in an
especially strong speech during a ceremony turning over the flag to
the 241 men and women who will represent Cuba in 21 sports at the
games in Sydney next month.
"We do not come here to ask you to be champions," the foreign
minister said in a ceremony attended by President Fidel Castro and
the rest of the nation's leadership. "We ask you to comport
yourself with honor and dignity."
Two-time Olympic heavyweight champion Felix Savon, along with
the rest of Cuba's powerful 12-member boxing team, was there. So
was high-jump champion Javier Sotomayor, who was thrilled earlier
in the day to learn that the world governing body of amateur track
and field ruled to cut his two-year drug suspension in half -- a
move that will allow him to compete in Sydney.
Also among members of the Olympic team was baseball superstar
first baseman Omar Linares, who has said he turned down an offer of
$8 million to play for the American major leagues.
It's unclear how receptive the Australian government would be to
asylum attempts by Cuban athletes. The force and tone of Perez Roque's speech
indicated serious concern about possible attempts to woo top
athletes into what he described as "mercenary sports."
Unlike sports agents, "we do not see machines of muscles, we
see sensitive men and women," Perez Roque said.
Sotomayor said he was grateful to the Cuban people and Castro
for believing in him after he was stripped of his gold medal in the
high jump at the Pan American games last year after testing positive
"We Cuban athletes have no price," Sotomayor told fellow
Olympic team members. "We don't give in nor do we sell ourselves,
nor do we exchange the affectionate applause of millions for
millions of dollars of contempt."
The two-time world high-jump champion and the world
record-holder has maintained his innocence and has said that his
urine test results were manipulated to bring shame to the communist
country's sports program.
While pleased he can compete in Sydney, he was unhappy that the
International Amateur Athletic Association did not exonerate him
when it ruled in Monte Carlo, Monaco, on Wednesday.
"I am happy, but not totally satisfied," Sotomayor told The
Associated Press before the evening ceremony. "I want to keep
trying to clean up my image. That is my goal."
Cuba criticizes the commercialization of athletes by capitalist
countries and considers those who abandon "revolutionary sports"
for professional sports to be guilty of treason.
At the 1996 Atlanta Olympics, star pitcher Rolando Arrojo
defected and was branded a traitor by Castro. Arrojo now pitches
for the Boston Red Sox.
Longtime Cuban boxing coach Mariano Leyva also sought political
asylum in the United States during the Summer Games in Atlanta.
Last week, four members of Cuba's indoor soccer team visiting
Costa Rica for a regional sports competition defected and sought
political asylum to stay in the Central American country.
Sotomayor cleared for Sydney after ban cut in half