Cuban soccer player missing from team at Olympic qualifying

Reuters News
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Posted: Mar 28, 2012 5:09 PM
Cuban soccer player missing from team at Olympic qualifying

By Tim Ghianni

NASHVILLE, Tennessee (Reuters) - A local media reported on Wednesday that a Cuban soccer player who may be trying to defect left the team while it was in Nashville, Tennessee, but U.S. federal and local authorities declined comment on his location.

The Cuban defensive player, Yosmel de Armas, was not with the team when it left a downtown hotel Tuesday, according to Nashville television station WZTV Fox-17. A player on the team told WZTV that De Armas had left the team.

When De Armas was absent from Monday night's final game in the Olympic qualifying tournament, the Cuban coach said the player was sick and back at the hotel.

While he was absent from Monday night's 1-1 draw with the Canadian team, he did play Saturday night in a 4-0 loss to El Salvador.

Metro Nashville Police referred all inquiries to the U.S. Department of Justice. The U.S. Marshals Service and the Department of Homeland Security had no comment about the player or the possible defection.

Tournament sponsor CONCACAF (Confederation of North, Central American and Caribbean Association Football) offered no information about the defection.

"We are not commenting on the matter" said CONCACAF's Ben Spencer from offices in New York City.

The Tennessee Office for Refugees for Catholic Charities, a statewide refugee relief program, said there has been no contact with De Armas.

There is a history of Cuban athletes defecting to pursue a potentially lucrative professional career outside of Cuba. For example, seven members of Cuba's Olympic soccer team defected in Tampa, Florida in 2008 after their qualifying game against the United States.

(Reporting By Tim Ghianni in Nashville; Editing by Mary Wisniewski and Greg McCune)