Cuban Baseball Team Could Miss Olympic Qualifier Without Visa Approval

Cuba's baseball team could miss the Americas Olympic qualifying event in Florida that begins May 31 without U.S. travel visa approvals that they have yet to obtain ahead of the Tokyo Olympics, baseball players and officials said Tuesday.

Baseball is returning to the Olympics after 13 years, and the Cuban team has been practicing for months ahead of the qualifying tournament. However, U.S. sanctions on Cuba currently in place made it impossible for the team to apply for visas in Havana.

"We do not have the pre-Olympic visas at the moment. Huge efforts have been made. We tried in Mexico, we tried in Panama, we tried to do it in Guyana," the treasurer of the Cuban Baseball Federation, Luis Daniel Del Risco, said to the Associated Press.

Athletes and their managers presented the documentation for visas last week to the U.S. Embassy in Cuba but have not received a response. The embassy's consular area has been closed since 2017 under then-President Donald Trump. If Cuba's team obtains visas and makes it to the qualifier in Florida, they will face off against Colombia, Venezuela and Canada. If not, they can try to head to Taipei in June to qualify for the Olympics.

For more reporting from the Associated Press, see below:

Cuban Baseball
Cuba's manager Carlos Marti (front 2nd L) watches his team during the World Baseball Classic Pool E second round match between Cuba and the Netherlands at the Tokyo Dome in Tokyo on March 15, 2017. Cuba's baseball team has not yet obtained U.S. visas for the Americas Olympic qualifying event held in Florida, which might cause them to miss the qualifier, ahead of the Tokyo Olympics. Kazuhiro Nogi/AFP via Getty Images

Managers and players expressed their concern about the lack of authorizations to attend the event, even though they have sought to obtain them in more than three countries.

In response to an AP request to the State Department on Tuesday, U.S. officials declined to provide information about the baseball players, saying that "visa records are confidential."

"It is very sad what is happening, we have been training for a long time," team captain and outfielder Frederich Cepeda said during a break in training. "It is a dream for us and for the people of Cuba to achieve the Olympic qualification ... What we want is our right to play."

Cuba would be in Group B at the qualifying tournament.

Cuban baseball executives say all the athletes have been vaccinated against the coronavirus with two doses of Cuba's own Soberana 02 vaccine and a booster dose of Soberana Plus.

Cuba's Baseball Team
Cuba's pitcher Yoanni Yera Montalvo, left, throws the ball as his teammates smile watching him during a training session at the Estadio Latinoamericano in Havana, Cuba, Tuesday, May 18, 2021. A little over a week after the start of the Las Americas Baseball Pre-Olympic in Florida, the Cuban team does not have visas to travel to the United States. Ramon Espinosa/AP Photo