The Continued Exodus: Why do athletes keep leaving the Cuban National Team?

The amateur boxing world was stunned once again late last week as Robeisy Ramirez, 2012 Olympic flyweight gold medalist and reigning Olympic bantamweight gold medalist, disappeared from the team’s hotel in Aguascalientes, Mexico in what looks like the first step of a defection from Cuba. This is far from the first time that a Cuban boxer, or a Cuban athlete in general has defected from the scandal-ridden Caribbean country. This is simply the latest incident in a long line of Cuban athletes who have escaped from Cuban control in the hopes of furthering their career.

That said, it’s 2018. Why does this keep happening? Sure, if it were still the 1990s or the 2000s, it’d be understandable as to why people would be defecting from Cuba. But why is it happening now despite Cuba having reopened its borders to foreigners? There are a few reasons, but two in particular stand out as particularly problematic. First, seeing as Cuba is a country that hasn’t undergone any kind of modernization, it wouldn’t be too far-fetched to imagine that the country’s training facilities, in this case boxing gyms, are far inferior to the rest of the world’s.

However, it is likely the second big reason that’s behind Ramirez’s supposed defection, and it is entirely political in nature. The problem many Cubans have had with their government is that it is far too restrictive when it comes to allowing citizens to freely travel. For an athlete, this can present challenges in the form of not being able to train against a wide range of talent, exactly the kind of thing that a developing amateur boxer would be looking to avoid. To be more specific, if a boxer keeps fighting against the same guys who were trained the same way that they were, eventually, the opponents will pose zero challenge. So if the boxer wants to continue improving, they must leave in order to seek out new challenges.

Like I said, Ramirez is certainly not the first Cuban boxer to defect (other defectors include now-pro boxers like Guillermo Rigondeaux and Joel Casamayor), and he will certainly not be the last barring a change from the Cuban government to fix whatever causes their citizens to regularly defect en masse. Cuba may be a powerhouse on the Olympic boxing circuit, but that may begin to change if more and more of their best talent continue to flee from their grasp.

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