Cuba suffers its first setbacks outside the World Boxing Championships ring: COVID-19 knocks out four fighters before taking the plane

Double Olympic champion in Rio and Tokyo, Arlén López, was surprisingly excluded from a team of four Olympic medalists for the Belgrade event.

Tokyo 2020 Olympics -   Boxing - Men's Light Heavyweight - Medal Ceremony - Kokugikan Arena - Tokyo, Japan - August 4, 2021. Gold medallist Arlen Lopez Cardona of Cuba poses for photos. Pool via REUTERS/Ueslei Marcelino
Tokyo 2020 Olympics - Boxing - Men's Light Heavyweight - Medal Ceremony - Kokugikan Arena - Tokyo, Japan - August 4, 2021. Gold medallist Arlen Lopez Cardona of Cuba poses for photos. Pool via REUTERS/Ueslei Marcelino

The Olympic leader in men’s boxing in Tokyo, Cuba, was destined to be one of the few countries with a full team at the upcoming World Championships in Belgrade, but COVID spoiled those plans.

The Cuban Boxing Federation (FCB) announced that four of its fighters selected for the trip to the Serbian capital tested positive for the coronavirus. But the double Olympic champion of Rio 2016 and Tokyo 2020, middleweight Arlen Lopez, was also excluded for reasons of “sporting form” argued the sports authorities.

Cuba had confirmed its presence in all 13 categories of the International Boxing Association (AIBA) tournament.

AIBA, which is struggling to convince the IOC that it is on the right path of reforms to regain its recognition, established last August 1 an increase in the number of weight divisions for both men and women.

The IOC, which was in charge of the Tokyo tournament due to the AIBA sanctions and until now its Task Force is still in force towards Paris, has decreed, in contrast, a decrease in the men’s categories. For the last Olympic event the divisions were reduced from 10 to eight though the women’s events increased from three to five.

For Paris 2024, the controversial suppression continued in the men’s sector with only seven weight divisions will compete while the women will have six.

Meanwhile, AIBA, in the midst of the conflict with the IOC, announces its first World Championship with an unprecedented competitive program in 48, 51, 54, 57, 57, 60, 63.5, 67, 71, 75, 86, 92, and +92. And also unprecedented rewards: for the first time the winners of gold, silver and bronze medals will leave the ring with checks of $100,000, $50,000 and $25,000.

But the Cuban boxers did not imagine that the pandemic would put an end to their dream of receiving a much-needed economic stimulus in the critical context of the Caribbean country.

An FCB communiqué indicated that the virus was detected in the four boxers “as part of the controls applied to all the members of the delegation” registered for the world competition that will begin on October 26.

None of the Cuban Olympic champions in Tokyo were among those infected.

Those ruled out by the disease were Billy Rodríguez (48 kg), Damián Arce (51 kg), Yosbany Veitía (54 kg) and Dainier Peró (+92 kg).

Veitía (29 years old) and Peró (21) were part of the Cuban Olympic team but missed the podium.

Veitía, world champion in Hamburg 2017, fell in the quarterfinals to Britain’s Galal Yafai, who would go on to win the 52 kg title.

Peró was eliminated by American Richard Torrez Jr, silver medalist after losing in the Olympic final to Uzbekistan’s Bakhodir Jalolov.

At the Lima 2019 Pan American Games Peró had beaten Torrez in the semifinals in a close decision.

This will be the second consecutive occasion in which Cuba will leave vacant in a World Championship its once laureate super heavyweight division. In 2019 on the way to the World Championship in Ekaterinburg, Russia, José Angel Larduet, who was presented as the Cuban Olympic hope in Tokyo, defected in Berlin.

Despite these last-minute casualties, the technical director of the Cuban national team, Rolando Acebal, remains confident of a performance close to that of Tokyo where Cuba won four gold medals and one bronze medal.

Tokyo 2020 Olympics - Boxing - Men's Lightweight - Medal Ceremony - Kokugikan Arena - Tokyo, Japan - August 8, 2021. Gold medallist Andy Cruz of Cuba poses for photos. Pool via REUTERS/Buda Mendes
Tokyo 2020 Olympics - Boxing - Men's Lightweight - Medal Ceremony - Kokugikan Arena - Tokyo, Japan - August 8, 2021. Gold medallist Andy Cruz of Cuba poses for photos. Pool via REUTERS/Buda Mendes

Among the laureates, Arlén López will be the only absentee. Olympic champions in the Japanese capital Andy Cruz (63 kg), Julio Cesar La Cruz (92 kg) and Roniel Iglesias (71 kg) and Olympic bronze medalist Lazaro Alvarez (60 kg) will lead the Caribbean squad of eight fighters.

Many boxing fans consider that the World tournaments are usually more difficult than the Olympic ones. Perhaps in relation to the Tokyo event the reflection could be right: in the Russian World Championship two years ago Cuba won a gold medal (Andy Cruz), a silver (Lazaro Alvarez) and a bronze (Julio C. La Cruz).

On Sunday, the boxing delegation left Havana for Uzbekistan for a one-week training base before continuing to Belgrade, which already hosted a World Championship in 1978.

Russia, Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan are once again strong rivals to the Cubans in the search for medals and the purse.


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