Cuba may skip boxing meet due to defections

<img border='0' align='left' title=' ' src='' class='caption'> Cuban boxers may be prevented from qualifying for next year's Beijing Olympics after fears they might defect.

Updated: August 11, 2007 09:18 IST
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Cuban boxers may be prevented from qualifying for next year's Beijing Olympics after fears they might defect.

Cuba's official newspapers published the statement from leader Fidel Castro, who said two boxers who reportedly tried to defect had reached "the point of no return" with the national team, and an athlete who abandons his delegation is like the soldier who abandons his fellow men in the midst of combat.

Guillermo Rigondeaux, Cuba's top boxer and a two-time Olympic bantamweight champion, and Erislandy Lara, an amateur welterweight world champion, arrived on Sunday in Cuba.

They were sent to state guest houses for more than two days, then released while the government decides what to do with them.

Rigondeaux returned to the Havana apartment he shares with his family on Wednesday, saying he never intended to defect.

"I always had the disposition, as always, to return to the homeland. People shouldn't think I was planning to stay; I am very revolutionary," said Rigondeaux.

The boxer's relatives said they never doubted he would return, even painting his home and preparing to feast on a pig to celebrate his homecoming.

German boxing promoter Arena had announced it signed Lara and Rigondeaux to five-year contracts, but the fighters were arrested in the coastal resort city of Cabo Frio for overstaying their visas.

The fighters told police they wanted to return to Cuba and hinted they were tricked into deserting, maybe even drugged by promoters.

"There was some ill discipline on our part and we realised we were wrong and returned to the homeland. I am waiting for reorientation. I have the greatest disposition and am awaiting the reorientation from my superiors in order to fulfil the tasks that are asked of us," said Rigondeaux.

Castro said Cuban officials were compiling the list of fighters for the 2008 Olympics, a squad that was scheduled to compete in the amateur world championships in Chicago in October and two other qualifying events before heading to China.

He said Cuban sports officials hoping to prevent defections are "analysing all possible alternatives, including the option of changing the list of boxers or of not sending any delegation whatsoever, in spite of the penalties that may be in store for us".

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