Wednesday, January 11, 2006 | Cuban President Fidel Castro, Major League Baseball and the San Diego Padres are all uncertain as to exactly what their roles will be when the World Baseball Classic rolls around this March.

A longstanding U.S. trade embargo with Cuba could be a significant roadblock in the Padres’ plan to hold the semifinals and finals of the tournament at Petco Park on March 18 and 20, respectively.

At the end of September, MLB granted the Padres the right to hold the tournament, which is touted as the most extraordinary gathering of baseball players ever to play at the international level. In total, 16 teams from throughout the world are slated to compete for the title of the globe’s dominant baseball nation.

But the U.S. Department of Treasury denied a request for Cuba to participate because the communist nation is not permitted to generate any revenue from the United States under the terms of a 1961 trade embargo. The move has created friction with the International Baseball Federation, or IBAF.

On Friday, IBAF President Aldo Notari of Italy sent a letter to MLB commissioner’s office threatening to pull its sanction from the tournament if the Bush administration does not allow Cuba to participate.

If the IBAF withdraws its sanction, the tournament would most likely be cancelled altogether because any nation that participates in an event without IBAF sanctions could be banned from Olympic baseball and any other international baseball event.

Olympic baseball and softball, however, have been dropped from the 2012 Olympics in London and the sports’ Olympic future is uncertain.

The federation is an umbrella organization that was formed under the auspices of the International Olympic Charter. That charter explicitly states that “any form of discrimination to a country or person on grounds of race, politics, gender or otherwise is incompatible with the Olympic movement.”

The Cuba conundrum needs to be resolved within the week because teams must submit their official rosters by Jan. 17.

MLB has submitted a second request to the Treasury Department asking that Cuba be permitted to play in the WBC. Castro has attempted to bolster his nation’s chances by offering to donate all proceeds generated from the tournament to Hurricane Katrina victims.

Padres CEO Sandy Alderson has said it would be a shame for Cuba, one of the world’s elite baseball nations, to be excluded from play.

Officials from MLB and the Padres wouldn’t speculate as to their courses of action if Cuba were denied a second application. Both organizations said that while they await a decision from the Treasury Department, they would continue working under the assumption that the tournament would go forth as originally planned.

Padres spokesman Jeff Overton wouldn’t speculate whether tickets would be refunded if the tournament was cancelled, although he did say that a well-run business “takes care of its customers.”

At this point, the Padres organization itself is not sure if it will recoup game day operation costs from MLB.

Overton said that although MLB officially runs the tournament, and thus reap all the revenue from ticket sales and sponsorships, the Padres would shoulder the costs of running the ballpark. This entails ushering, ballpark security and grounds keeping.

“I know that MLB will come in and help more than on a normal game day,” Overton said. “But no one else can run Petco Park apart from the Petco Park operations staff.”

“That was one of the understandings going in. We hope to cover the ballpark operating expenses and if we do, that would be great. More than anything, we see this as a great way to promote the game of baseball.”

This is not the only financing matter that is still up in the air with less than three months until the tournament is set to hit town.

City ballpark Administrator Dennis Gibson has said that on game day, the city would have to shell out funding for services such as policing, traffic mitigation and trash collection.

Although the joint-use management agreement between the city and the Padres doesn’t allow the city to recoup costs for “baseball-related events,” Gibson said the Padres might reimburse the city for some of these expenses. If they do not, the city will try to use money it generated from the Rolling Stones concert to pay for these services.

Please contact Sam Hodgson directly at

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