For decades Cuban athletes have been forbidden from competing in foreign leagues – the product of a belief that any professional sports were anathema to the country’s socialist ideals.
But in a significant departure from the policy announced today, Cuban sportsmen and women will be allowed to sign contracts and compete around the world.
The measure promises to greatly increase the amount of money athletes can earn, and seems geared toward stemming the continuing wave of defections by those lured abroad by the possibility of lucrative contracts.
It was not immediately clear if the ruling would let Cuban baseball players jump to the US Major Leagues without restrictions at home or under US laws that restrict money transfers to the communist-led island.
Cuba has traditionally excelled in baseball and boxing, and has had great success relative to its size at the Olympic Games.
Athletes will be eligible to play abroad as long as they fulfil their commitments at home, the Communist Party newspaper Granma reported. “It will be taken into account that they are in Cuba for the fundamental competitions of the year,” the paper added.
According to the paper, the decision was approved at a recent session of the Council of Ministers, headed by President Raul Castro.
Until now, few Cuban baseball players have been permitted to play abroad. Alfredo Despaigne spent this summer with the Pirates of Campeche, Mexico. And previously, Omar Linares played in Japan.
This has resulted in a number of athletes, especially baseball players, defecting over the years. They include Yasiel Puig, who signed a multimillion-dollar contract with the Los Angeles Dodgers in 2012. Professional sports were outlawed under Fidel Castro in 1961.