Cuba allows citizens to play pro sports abroad

Cuba allows citizens to play pro sports abroad

Cuba allows citizens to play pro sports abroad

Cuba, in a move that could alter the sports landscape forever, has decided to allow its athletes to pursue careers in foreign sports leagues. Prior to that announcement, professional sports had been banned in Cuba since 1961, a policy that lasted for more than five decades.

The measure seems designed to stem a generational tide of defections by Cuban athletes who have been lured away from home by the possibility of lucrative contracts elsewhere.

It was not immediately clear whether the ruling will allow players to directly jump to Major League Baseball, because there are U.S. laws that restrict money transfers to the island nation and Cuban athletes would be responsible for paying taxes to their homeland for money earned abroad.

"A change in Cuban laws does not affect our licensing procedure," John Sullivan, spokesman for the Treasury Department's Office of Foreign Assets Control, which enforces limits on transferring money to Cuba, told The Associated Press.

The decision was recently approved at a recent session by Cuba's Council of Ministers. And the announcement, which came from the Communist Party newspaper Granma, said that Cuban players will be able to pursue careers abroad as long as they take care of obligations at home. For baseball players, those obligations will include participation in international tournaments and the country's regular season, which runs from November to April.

"It will be taken into account that they are in Cuba for the fundamental competitions of the year," Granma said.

Cuban baseball players have rarely been allowed to leave the nation and play elsewhere. Former star Omar Linares played in Japan, and Alfredo Despaigne spent this summer with the Campeche Pirates in the Mexican League. Those kinds of options should be more readily available for Cuban players under the new laws, even if they are unable to play in the Major Leagues.

In the past, dozens of players -- including half-brothers Livan and Orlando Hernandez -- decided to try to sneak out of Cuba and establish residency elsewhere to pursue their dreams. In many cases, that meant that the players had to leave their families behind in Cuba in order to play baseball professionally.

Cuban defectors have played large roles in the big leagues in recent years. Reds reliever Aroldis Chapman is one of the game's best young arms, Jose Fernandez of the Marlins and Dodgers phenom Yasiel Puig are top candidates for the National League Rookie of the Year Award, and A's outfielder Yoenis Cespedes finished second in the American League Rookie of the Year Award voting last season and won the 2013 Home Run Derby at Citi Field.

Spencer Fordin is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.