IBAF might revoke WBC sanction

IBAF might revoke WBC sanction

The International Baseball Federation has sent a letter to Major League Baseball, the Players Association and the 16 countries or territories involved in the World Baseball Classic that the organization will revoke its sanction of the March tournament if the U.S. government doesn't approve Cuba's participation in it.

MLB spokesman Rich Levin confirmed on Friday that baseball was in receipt of the letter that was faxed and signed by Aldo Notari, the IBAF president. The story first appeared in the Toronto Sun on Thursday.

In the case that Cuba is not allowed to play, the tournament, scheduled for March 3-20 in the U.S., Puerto Rico and Japan, would be in serious jeopardy because all of the other participants would be under threat to bow out without IBAF sanction.

MLB reapplied to the U.S. Treasury Dept. on Dec. 22 for a license so Cuba can play. Baseball officials are still waiting for word and Bob DuPuy, MLB's president and chief operating officer, said this week that he's "guardedly optimistic" that the department will reverse its initial decision.

Earlier in December, the Treasury Dept. denied MLB's application, because the long-standing economic embargo of that island nation "prohibits entering into contracts in which Cuba or Cuban nationals have an interest," a spokesman for that department said.

But in the reapplication, any funds earmarked for Cuba would be donated to charity. Subsequently, Cuban president Fidel Castro said that money would be given to victims of Hurricane Katrina, which devastated the U.S. gulf coast this past September.

During the Clinton administration, the Cubans were allowed to participate in the 1996 Summer Olympics at Atlanta and three years later the Cuban national baseball team travelled to Baltimore to play the Orioles in an exhibition game at Camden Yards. The Cubans won the baseball gold medal in Atlanta and have captured three of the four since baseball became a medal sport in 1992.

Since the license for Cuba to participate in the WBC was denied, pressure has been exerted publicly by Puerto Rico and Venezuela. Puerto Rico's amateur baseball federation sent a letter to the IBAF saying that it would not host the first two rounds of the tournament in San Juan as planned if Cuba wasn't allowed to play. Cuba is slated as a participant there along with Puerto Rico, Panama and the Netherlands.

Venezuela said it was opposed to Cuba's ouster from the tournament and suggested hosting those rounds in Caracas as a way of circumventing the problem.

But the IBAF has now even overruled that suggestion.

The IBAF cited a portion of the Olympic charter, which states that "any form of discrimination to a country or person on grounds of race, politics, gender or otherwise is incompatible with the Olympic movement," as grounds for removing its sanction of the tournament if the U.S. bars Cuba from competing.

Nations that play despite the sanction would be subject to penalties in the future regarding other IBAF sanctioned international events. The IBAF hosts its own baseball World Cup every other year and sanctions teams to participate in the Olympics. The IBAF is a member of the International Olympic Committee and must adhere to those standards.

After much negotiations between MLB, the union and the IBAF, the umbrella group for all the world's baseball federations, sanctioned the tournament in 2004. More than 100 baseball federations are members of the IBAF.

Barry M. Bloom is a national reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.