(ATR) Cuban sport suffers an unprecedented loss: within about two weeks COVID-19 caused the death of the two main leaders of baseball, considered the national sport on the island.
At dusk on May 12, an official note from the Cuban Sports Institute (INDER) announced the death of the president of the Cuban Federation, Higinio Vélez, who was 74.
On April 27, a similar statement revealed the surprising news of the death of the National Baseball Commissioner, Ernesto Reynoso, 56, "due to complications derived from Covid-19".
The death of the two officials, admitted to a hospital east of Havana, occurs when they were both involved in preparations for the trip of the Cuban team to the Olympic Qualifying Tournament of the Americas in Florida, United States at the end of May.
Cuba is one of the eight teams that will play as of May 31 in the Florida towns of West Palm Beach and Port St Lucie, with only one Olympic place available.
And on the eve of that crucial commitment, the coronavirus pandemic has suddenly taken Cuban baseball to its head.
Reynoso and Vélez could be considered the first fatalities of COVID-19 in the sports movement on the Island. Last year there were deaths of Cuban coaches based in Mexico and Brazil due to the coronavirus.
According to various sources, both directors were infected by an outbreak in the Commissioner's Offices located in the main baseball park of the Caribbean nation, the Latin American Stadium. In the heart of Havana, it was the site where in March 2016 U.S. President Barack Obama attended a game before some 50,000 people.
Velez's death produced commotion inside and outside of Cuba. Before being named head of the Cuban Federation in 2008, Velez was an award-winning manager of the Cuban teams in international tournaments.
Vélez won the gold medals at the 2004 Athens Olympic Games and the Pan American Games in Indianapolis in 1987 and Santo Domingo in 2003. He also won the titles of the 2001, 2003 and 2005 World Cups organized by the International Federation.
Two years later he was the director of the Cuban team that was proclaimed runner-up in the First World Classic organized by Major League Baseball after losing in the final match against Japan.
In domestic tournaments, Vélez won the national series on numerous occasions with the Santiago de Cuba team, the second largest province in the country.
"They called me last night from Cuba ... It's really very sad," the president of the World Baseball and Softball Confederation, Riccardo Fraccari, told Around The Rings.
"Goodbye Higinio. You will remain forever in the history of our sport. Thank you for your example, your leadership and for all that we have done and lived together," the Italian leader wrote on Twitter. Vélez was also vice president of the Pan American Confederation of the sport and was among the Cuban coaches who collaborated with the development of baseball in Italy.
Among the messages of condolence received in Havana is the one sent by the executive director of USA Baseball, Paul Seiler, according to the local press.
Cuba is experiencing a serious rebound in COVID-19. So far in May, the pandemic has left about 13,000 infections, with a daily average of more than 1,000 and Havana with more than half of those cases.
Since the beginning of the pandemic, Cuba has registered more than 120,000 infections and some 780 deaths, according to government figures.
Citizens are confident that the start of the massive vaccination that has just begun will stem the dangerous rebound from which Cuban sport has not escaped.
Written and reported by Miguel Hernandez
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