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July 25, 2015 — A ticket vs. a passion

This evening, the Pan American Games field hockey competition wrapped up with four classification games on the men’s side.

But as much attention as the gold-medal game between Canada and Argentina garnered, especially in the host nation, there was another game whose circumstances made the news. That game was the seventh-place match between Trinidad & Tobago and Cuba.

The news wasn’t the result of the match, a 13-0 win by T&T. Instead, it was the makeup of the Cuban team that was the story. The team only played seven outfielders and one goalkeeper for the seventh-place match because the other half of the roster defected, left the site of competition, and sought asylum in the United States.

Though the Cold War ostensibly ended in 1991 with the breakup of the Soviet Union, Cuba has remained a country stuck in that Cold War era. Athletes, artists, and political dissidents have regularly sought passage to the United States, where waiting families and a strong Cuban-American community await them.

There have been certain thaws in this post-Cold War relationship. In January 2013, Cuba lifted the barriers to travel which kept the Cuban populace virtual prisoners in their own country. In April, President Obama met Cuban President Raul Castro in the first face-to-face meeting between the two executives in six decades. And just last week, Cuba opened an embassy in Washington, D.C.

Yet, despite the potential for economic and political reforms in Cuba, the lure of freedom and economic opportunity are very strong. Which brings us to the Cuban athletes on the men’s field hockey team.

The sport of field hockey was certainly their ticket off the island and how they were able to seek asylum in the United States under the “dry foot” policies of the recent past. However, it is supremely unlikely that these eight people are likely to be able to excel in their chosen field of athletic endeavor, given the sorry state of men’s field hockey here.

Given the emphasis that economics and skills have driven immigration policy the last 25 years, it is, I think, an irony that the incoming Cuban players are unlikely to be able to parlay their own athletic passion into a living.

As the old saying says, “Be careful what you wish for.”

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