Castro Says Cuba Is The Only Country With True Amateur Athletes

By Jim Burns | July 7, 2008 | 8:08 PM EDT

( - Despite defections of some of its star athletes to the United States, and even though Cuban President Fidel Castro has never acknowledged the U.S. defeat of Cuba's baseball team during the Summer Olympics, Castro Wednesday declared that the communist nation is the only country in the world with true amateur athletes.

Radio Havana reported Wednesday that Castro welcomed home the Cuban Olympic team from Sydney during a ceremony at Havana's Jose Marti airport. Castro said, "No country in the world has the conditions to fully develop sports, because the dignity of Cuban athletes cannot be bought with money."

Castro and his government are still smarting over the defection of baseball player Andy Morales to the United States back in June. Morales, before his defection, enjoyed a high profile in Cuba, because he hit a home run last year to help the Cuban national baseball team defeat the Baltimore Orioles in Baltimore by a score of 12-6.

But during the Havana ceremony, Castro characterized Cuba as "Olympic champions," even though the Cuban baseball team lost out on a gold medal to the U.S. team, in a 4-0 game in Sydney. Castro also announced the opening of an "international physical education" school with a capacity for 1,500 students from different countries.

Castro urged the Cuban Olympic athletes to prepare hard for the Athens Olympic games in 2004.

"We will support China's candidacy for the 2008 Olympics and we will begin working toward hosting the 2012 world games in Havana."

Meanwhile, the United States came under criticism from the Caribbean House of Colombian Solidarity, a pro-Castro group.

A statement by the group from its Barranquilla, Colombia headquarters said, "Cuba's successes in Australia is a gold medal for Cuba's athletes, its government and for President Fidel Castro, who, has created a policy in support of sports, science and the arts despite Washington's almost 40 year old blockade against Cuba."

The statement also said, "The Cuban athletes won gold, silver and bronze medals for each one million of its 11 million inhabitants."

"No country in world can demonstrate such statistics, and this was achieved, despite Washington's economic war against Cuba," the statement said.