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Despite the success of Ping-Pong diplomacy with China, the Ford administration has said, at least for the moment, that it will not go along with a plan to initiate baseball diplomacy (SI, Nov. 24) with Cuba. The proposal to send a group of major-leaguers to Havana in March to perform against a Cuban all-star team may have been vetoed for the poorest of reasons: domestic politics.
Secretary of State Kissinger has acknowledged that the Havana trip, organized by two young independent television producers, Barry Jagoda and Richard Cohen, with the support of Baseball Commissioner Bowie Kuhn, has been shelved, but he has given no reason for that decision. State Department officials say that Kissinger has rejected the idea because of Cuban military involvement in the Angolan civil war, the Castro government's persistent support of Puerto Rican independence and Cuba's vote in favor of last month's United Nations resolution that declared Zionism a form of racism.
But the use of these international considerations as an excuse to prevent the baseball trip is suspect, particularly when it is remembered that the U.S. table tennis team was allowed to visit China at the same time the People's Republic was supplying arms to North Vietnamese forces that were involved in a shooting war with American troops.
State Department officials also revealed another—and perhaps the real—reason for disapproval of the Havana visit when they told George Gedda of the Associated Press that Ford is reluctant to make a sporting gesture of friendship toward Cuba at a time when it might cost him conservative votes in Republican Presidential primaries next February and March.
The State Department has indicated that the antitrip decision might yet be reversed, and it should be, especially if it did indeed arise from domestic political concerns. No one expects a visit to Cuba by American big-leaguers to create an instant atmosphere of universal good will—in sport or in politics—but at least it would be a welcome step in that direction.
'TIS THE SEASON
American track coaches at the NCAA cross-country championships two weeks ago (SI, Dec. 8) were griping again about foreign athletes running for U.S. colleges. The University of Texas at El Paso and Washington State, which finished one-two, had eight foreigners among their 10 scoring runners.
What is remarkable about this is not so much that these top runners are foreign as that seven are Kenyans and, moreover, that five of the seven come from the same section of Kenya ( Rift Valley, one of that country's eight provinces). The five had competed against one another in the Rift Valley high school cross-country championships in 1971, and three of them (John Ngeno and Joshua Kimeto of Washington State and Sammy Maritim of UTEP) finished one-two-three in Kenya's national high school championship the same year. Indeed, Rift Valley runners took eight of the first nine places in that race.