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International Play

At the 2003 World Cup in Havana were
 (l. to r.) Yulieski Gourriel, Ariel Pestano, Carlos Tabares, Osmani Urrutia, Frederich Cepeda, Michel Enriquez, Eduardo Paret, Kendry Morales and Pedro Luis Lazo.

Those who follow Cuban baseball are more likely aware about the country’s exploits on the international stage. Cuba is a pre-eminent competitor in Olympic Games competition, the World Cup, the Pan-American Games, and the Intercontinental Cup.

These are the most high profile competitions outside of Major League Baseball and Cuba’s achievements have been unmatched by any other nation.

Since the World Cup began in England in 1938, Cuba has won 25 of the 30 competitions it has competed in. Cuba has also played host to the World Cup 11 times.

The Cuban national team has captured 10 Pan-American Games baseball titles, including the last 9 of the last 10.  

In Intercontinental Cup play, Cuba has won 10 gold and 3 silvers in 16 competitions dating back to 1973. Cuba took its latest gold in Chinese Taipai in 2006.

Although international baseball appeared in exhibition form as early as the 1904 Olympic Games in St. Louis, it took until 1992 for baseball to be recognized as a medal sport, after being seen as a demonstration sport at the Seoul Olympics of 1988 and the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics, where Cuba did not compete. At the 1992 Olympic Games, in Barcelona, Cuba defeated Taiwan 11-1 to win the gold medal.

At the 1996 Olympic Games in Atlanta, Cuba defeated Japan in the final game by a 12-9 margin. Then, at the 2000 Sydney Olympics, a brilliant pitching performance by Team U.S.A.’s Ben Sheets shut down Team Cuba, as a jubilant American team upset the defending champs 4-0 to take the gold.

Cuban defeated Australia in the final of the 2004 Athens Olympics.  In 2008 it suffered a heartbreaking 3-2 loss to an excellent team from Korea at the 2008 Beijing Olympics.

These international baseball competitions are regulated by the International Baseball Federation (IBAF), which has undergone several incarnations since its foundation in 1938. 

In 1996 its predecessor version, the International Baseball Association, ruled that professional athletes would be allowed into the international competitions. By 1998, Major League Baseball agreed to permit athletes from its affiliate organizations, up to Triple AAA, to compete for Team USA and other nations.


In July of 2005 the International Olympic Committee surprised baseball fans around the world when it announced that baseball (and women’s softball) would be dropped from the 2012 Olympics – the first sport to be dropped from the games since 1936. And, despite an appeal in February of 2006, the IOC voted to reject reinstatement of baseball to the games.

IOC President Jaques Rogge said that international baseball’s continued refusal to allow its best to compete in the games, along with its refusal to meet Olympic-grade World Anti Doping Agency standards, were contributing factors to the ousting of baseball as an Olympic event. “The IOC wants clean sport, the best athletes and universality,” said Rogge.

Unlike the National Basketball Association, or the National Hockey League – the latter of which interrupted its regular season for the 1998, 2002 and 2006 Winter Games – MLB will not t permit its athletes to participate in Olympic competition. 

Carlos Rodriguez, then the president of the Cuban Baseball Federation, also echoed the IOC leader’s sentiments. 

“Those who bear most of the blame are the owners of the professional leagues who refuse to free up their baseball players to compete,” he told the Associated Press, when baseball was initially rejected.

For Cuba and other baseball-loving nations – especially those with only amateur leagues – the elimination of baseball from Olympic competition is a very contentious matter. Many countries’ federations, including Cuba’s, gear player and roster development around the four-year Olympic cycle.

Cuba is fully supportive and competes in IBAF-sponsored competitions. The IBAF represents 113 baseball federations around the world.

Three days after baseball was dropped from the Olympics in July of 2005, MLB and the Major League Players Association announced a preliminary schedule for an inaugural “Word Baseball Classic” (WBC) to be held in March of 2006, during spring training.

Click to visit World Baseball Classic page

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