The Miami Herald
August 3, 2000

Foreign Minister exhorts Olympic athletes to bring honor to Cuba

 HAVANA -- (AP) -- Declaring collective dignity more valuable than personal glory,
 Foreign Minister Felipe Perez Roque exhorted Cuba's Olympic team members
 not to sell out to those who tempt them with money to desert their country.

 ``Personal glory is fleeting,'' Perez Roque said in an especially strong speech
 during a ceremony turning the flag over to the 241 men and women who will
 represent Cuba in 21 sports at the games in Sydney, Australia, next month.

 ``We do not come here to ask you to be champions,'' the foreign minister said in
 the ceremony attended by President Fidel Castro and the rest of the nation's
 leadership. ``We ask you to comport yourself with honor and dignity.''

 Two-time Olympic heavyweight champion Felix Savon, along with the rest of
 Cuba's powerful 12-member boxing team, was there. So was high-jump champion
 Javier Sotomayor, who was thrilled earlier in the day to learn that the world
 governing body of amateur track and field ruled to cut his two-year drug
 suspension in half -- a move that will allow him to compete in Sydney.

 Also among members of the Olympic team was baseball superstar first baseman
 Omar Linares, who has said he turned down an offer of $8 million to play for the
 American major leagues.

 It's unclear how receptive the Australian government would be to asylum attempts
 by Cuban athletes. Overwhelmed by a wave of immigrants from Asia and the
 Middle East, the government in June launched new videos that warn off illegal
 boat people with sinister images of sharks, crocodiles and snakes.

 Nevertheless, the force and tone of Perez Roque's speech indicated serious
 concern about possible attempts to woo top athletes into what he described as
 ``mercenary sports.''

 Unlike sports agents, ``we do not see machines of muscles, we see sensitive
 men and women,'' Perez Roque said.

 Sotomayor said he was grateful to the Cuban people and Castro for believing in
 him after he was stripped of his gold medal in the high jump at least year's Pan
 American games after testing positive for cocaine.

 ``We Cuban athletes have no price,'' Sotomayor told fellow Olympic team
 members. ``We don't give in nor do we sell ourselves, nor do we exchange the
 affectionate applause of millions for millions of dollars of contempt.''

 The two-time world high-jump champion and the world record-holder has
 maintained his innocence and has said his test results were manipulated to bring
 shame to the communist country's sports program.

 While pleased he can compete in Sydney, he was unhappy that the International
 Amateur Athletic Association did not exonerate him when it ruled Wednesday in
 Monte Carlo, Monaco.

 ``I want to keep trying to clean up my image. That is my goal,'' Sotomayor told
 The Associated Press.

 Cuba criticizes the commercialization of athletes by capitalist countries and
 considers those who abandon ``revolutionary sports'' for professional sports to be
 guilty of treason.

 At the 1996 Atlanta Olympics, star pitcher Rolando Arrojo defected and was
 branded a traitor by Castro. Arrojo now pitches for the Boston Red Sox.

 Longtime Cuban boxing coach Mariano Leyva also sought political asylum in the
 United States during the Summer Games in Atlanta.

 Last week, four members of Cuba's indoor soccer team visiting Costa Rica for a
 regional sports competition sought political asylum in the Central American

 Baseball player Andy Morales, a third baseman best known in the United States
 for hitting a home run during Cuba's 12-6 victory over the Baltimore Orioles at
 Camden Yards last year, made his second, successful attempt to emigrate to the
 United States last month.