Cuba says it will pay athletes better salaries and bonuses

Cuba has established an intricate set of pay scales, bonuses and regulations for its top athletes in what clearly appears to be an effort to stem an ongoing wave of defections by its stars and perhaps return the island to its sports glories of old.

The new system approved by the ruling Council of Ministers and detailed Friday in the newspaper Granma also will allow athletes to keep more of their prize money and seemed to open the door to more Cubans playing abroad, but gave few details.

It was not immediately clear whether the new system might affect Cuban athletes already playing for foreign teams, such as the nearly two dozen playing Major League Baseball in the United States.

What is clear is that the changes will hike payments to top, full-time athletes, who have usually earned meager salaries of $20 to $30 per month from no-show jobs in state enterprises since Fidel Castro abolished professional sports in the early 1960s.

The new uniform system, which replaces a series of arrangements that differ according to the sport, sets several categories, based on results in competitions, that will determine monthly income and bonuses — all taxable — as well as retirement and other benefits.

Olympic medalists will be paid 1,500 pesos per month, or about $60, while Pan American Games medalists will be paid 1,200 pesos. Participants in the National Baseball Series and the national baseball selection will get 1,000 pesos per month.

Their respective sports organizations also will pay bonuses per medals during the time that athletes are active in the national teams, from 2,500 pesos for an Olympic gold to 300 pesos for a first place in the Central American games, which include the Caribbean.

And while the government now pockets more than 80 percent of the prize money won in international competitions, the new system guarantees 80 percent to the athletes in major sports, 15 percent to coaches and 5 percent to specialists such as physical trainers.

The increased payments also will go to active and retired coaches and specialists, but will not exceed half their current monthly salary, according to the lengthy Granma article. Bonuses now paid to past winners will be maintained.

Just as complicated are the pay hikes and bonuses for baseball, where 5,000 pesos will go to starting pitchers who throw for more than 120 innings and win more than 10 games in one season. The team that wins the national series will get 65,000 pesos, or $2,600.

Granma also reported that top athletes will have “the possibility of being contracted by teams abroad, protected by the National Institute for Sports, Physical Education and Recreation (INDER), and the sports federations.”

It added that athletes with foreign contracts will be required to represent Cuba in major competitions, but gave no details on which sports will or will not be allowed to sign contracts with professional teams abroad.

The mention of the state-controlled INDER, and a requirement that all athletes sign contracts with their respective sports federations, indicated that the government and not the athletes will play the key role in any contract negotiations with foreign teams.

Three Cubans were contracted this year to play in the Mexican baseball league, and there have been report that up to two dozen more will go there after Cuba’s own national baseball championship later this year. And a handful of volleyball players were hired out to European teams several years ago.

The changes will take effect in November for baseball and January for the rest of the sports, Granma reported, but the Council of Ministers agreed that “this is only the start of the road” and will consider further changes and refinements later.

Granma reported that the new system was designed to “perfect the sport, create sources of income, search for quality and discipline in competitions, increase salaries in a gradual manner and assure that each persons is paid according to his work.”

Cuban teams, once powerhouses in the Olympics and other international competitions, have performed surprisingly poorly in recent meets amid reports of discontent with the country’s sports hierarchy and a steady stream of defections.

Among the two dozen or so Cubans now playing for U.S. major league teams are Yasiel Puig, Yoenis Céspedes, Adeiny Hechevarría, Alexei Ramírez, Kendrys Morales, José Fernández and Yunel Escobar.

Cuban baseball officials have reportedly proposed accepting the return of those major league players who left the island illegally but did not defect from a national team during a trip abroad, Havana resident Daniel Palacios wrote earlier this week.

Palacios added that Antonio Castro Soto del Valle, son of Fidel Castro and vice president of International Baseball Federation, has pushed the idea in a talk with Yoenis Céspedes, who plays for the Oakland Athletics

Read more Cuba stories from the Miami Herald

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