Three Cuban soccer players defected ahead of game in Toronto
Published Saturday, October 13, 2012 7:43AM EDT
Last Updated Saturday, October 13, 2012 1:56PM EDT
A spokesperson for FIFA -- the governing body of international soccer – has confirmed that three Cuban players defected during a trip to Toronto for a World Cup qualifying game.
The FIFA official made the confirmation in an email to The Canadian Press, but did not offer any details.
A fourth player was reportedly ill and not able to attend the game between the Cuban and Canadian men’s national teams.
A spokesman for the U.S. Customs and Border Protection would not confirm to CP reports that the defecting players tried to cross a Niagara Falls border point into the United States the night before.
After the two teams squared off Friday, Cuban coach Alexander Gonzalez was reluctant to discuss why the team arrived in Toronto with a full complement of 15 players, but was down to 11 by the time the game rolled around. He mentioned that one of hte players was sick and then wanted to focus on the game.
The Cuban team, which played without any substitutes, lost to Canada, 3-0.
But Gonzalez later admitted through an interpreter that some players had left the team and that he was disappointed.
"As with any Cuban sport team that travels around the world, they're all chasing the American dream," he told reporters.
"And it's difficult to try to keep the team together ... Obviously it's a difficult situation for the team and it's tough for me to talk about it."
Gonzalez blamed international soccer rules, saying that if FIFA allowed Cuban players to play in other leagues, such defections would be less likely.
Former Canadian ambassador to Cuba Michael Kergin told CTV News Channel that if the players defected, they likely wouldn’t plan to settle in Canada.
“My guess would be that some of the men would have family or networks in the United States; that’s where most of the Cuban diaspora is. So it’s possible that after some discussion these guys will head south,” he said.
Kergin added it’s unlikely the Canadian government would force the players to return to Cuba. But if the men did choose to go back, they would probably be detained by Cuban officials for a while.
“They would probably be sent to what they call ‘education centres’ to dust up their communist principles,” Kergin said.
This isn't the first time Cuban soccer players have fled to the United States while in Canada.
Last January, two players with the women's team defected following a match against Canada in Vancouver.