Friday, September 5, 2008

The Cuba Cinco are true American heroes

That image right there is courtesy Grant Wahl's very fine FanNation blog and it showcases five very brave American heroes who are willing to defy official persecution to support their country's national team.

Here's Wahl:

HAVANA, Cuba -- The U.S. national soccer team arrived here yesterday from Miami for its first-ever World Cup qualifier against Cuba, but they weren’t the only Americans who found their way to Havana. On Thursday night I met up in the Plaza Vieja with five hardcore U.S. soccer fans who defied the U.S. government’s ban on unlicensed travel to Cuba and got into the country by flying separately through a third country.

I won’t be naming them here for obvious reasons, so I’ll call them the Cuba Cinco: four men and one woman ranging in ages from 28 to 38 and hailing from California (two), New York (two) and Colorado.

I have blogged several times this year over the completely gutless lack of effort from U.S. Soccer to arrange a way for US soccer fans to travel to Cuba to support the Rattlers in our WCQ against the Red Menace on Saturday. (Here, here and here.) And what did the esteemed home of the world's game on these domestic shores do about it? Not. One. Damn. Thing. They hid behind the old "The U.S. State Department says...." wussy excuse.

Now comes Wahl profiling these five true patriots who are rising to the occasion and taking matters into their own hands to support our country and our team. As one of the Cuba Cinco say, this is not about politics. This is about our team.

“It was pretty much a no-brainer,” said one who travels to every U.S. road qualifier. “The U.S. is playing Cuba and we follow the U.S. team. Then there’s the historical significance of the game. For people who are really fans you can’t miss it. The team’s playing here, embargo be damned. We’re not going to make a political statement. We’re just going to watch the game and take in a new culture.”

And this, my favorite part of the story:

The Cuba Cinco says they’re aware of the risks that come with traveling to Cuba. According to the U.S. Department of the Treasury, criminal penalties for violating U.S. sanctions against spending money in Cuba range up to 10 years in prison and $250,000 in individual fines. Yet it’s hard to imagine a Stars-and-Stripes-waving U.S. fan would face such harsh punishments.

“I’m fine with [the risks],” said one. “I don’t mind being the person that ends up asking for a hearing and then becoming the big constitutional civil rights case. Because I don’t think it’s constitutional for the U.S. to make it illegal for Americans to spend their money in Cuba.”

“If you think about it, too,” added another, “we’re here to support the U.S. national team in another country. If they were going to make an example of us, what kind of example would that set?”

“I will go anywhere our team plays to support our team, which is thereby supporting our country,” said another. “I’m not doing this to hold the middle finger up to the country or the government or anything like that. It’s just that I don’t really care about any arbitrary law that’s going to restrict my ability to travel. We’re supposed to be free. I consider that to extend to the right to travel.”

All five admit they were nervous coming into Cuba and will be again when they return to the States. But each one said the effort and the risks are worth it. “We all know that [the U.S. players] are coming to a stadium where their fans are outnumbered 10,000 to 1,” one said. “I want to be that one guy there supporting them--and show that I’m a fan and I’m willing to spend my own nickel and come out here to see you play.”

“Do the U.S. players know they have fans coming out to support them in Cuba?” one member of the Cuba Cinco finally asked.

I told them I didn’t think so.

“Well, they’ll have at least five.”

More power to them.

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