Monday, July 30, 2007

Cuban Athletes Leave Games Early

Cuban athletes have made a hurried departure from the Pan-American games in Brazil, apparently amid fears of possible mass defections. The delegation was rushed at short notice to Rio de Janeiro's airport, leaving the men's volleyball team no time to collect their bronze medals. The athletes were said to have been ordered to leave the games before the finishing ceremony on Sunday. It follows the defection of four Cuban athletes earlier in the tournament. The Pan-American Games, which take place every four years, are one of the biggest sporting events in the Americas, and Cuba has once again been among the main contenders. As the competition draws to a close in Rio de Janeiro, the country is in second place behind the United States in the league table of medals.Among Cuba's latest achievements was a bronze medal in the men's volleyball competition, but its athletes were conspicuously absent from the awards ceremony on Saturday. Instead, the team could be seen making an almost frantic departure at Rio's international airport, after apparently being ordered to return home at short notice. It is not clear why there has been such a rapid departure in advance of the final ceremony, but four Cuban athletes have already defected during the competition. Such was the speed of the departure that some athletes were said to have had difficulty finding their luggage. Cuba's President, Fidel Castro, has already made clear his irritation over earlier defections, accusing athletes of betraying their country for money. "Betrayal for money is one of the favourite weapons of the United States to destroy Cuba's resistance," he said. At the 1999 Pan-American Games in Canada up to 13 athletes defected, and it seems Cuba was keen to avoid something on the same scale happening in Rio.