While playing in a tournament in Mexico this weekend, nine members of a Cuban baseball team defected. While Cuban athletes have a history of defecting while competing in other countries, this was the largest athlete defection in years, the BBC reports. The Cuban government confirmed the defections Sunday, calling them "vile abandonments," the AP reports. The rest of the team's 24 members were scheduled to return to Cuba on Monday. They had been participating in the U23 World Cup, or the World Cup for athletes under the age of 23. Cuba lost to Colombia in the bronze medal game Saturday.
The difficult relations between Cuba and the US prevent Cuban baseball players from taking part in a typical hiring process for Major League Baseball, and it's not uncommon for Cuban players to defect in order to sign with MLB clubs. Cuba and MLB made a deal in 2018 normalizing sports relations so that players wouldn't need to defect, but the Trump administration quickly canceled that agreement in an attempt to pressure Cuba to make political changes. Currently, Cuba is undergoing an economic crisis, and the BBC notes these defections indicate things are particularly bad there. Food and medicine shortages are widespread, and US sanctions and the COVID-19 pandemic have also taken a big toll. (Read more Cuba stories.)