Cuba’s track federation allows athletes autonomy over sponsorships
Cuba’s sports regime is allowing athletes to seek their own endorsement
deals, and a Canadian agent helped guide them through the process.
By: Morgan Campbell Staff Reporter, Business Reporter, Published on Sun
Feb 22 2015
Before U.S. president Barack Obama announced plans in December to
normalize diplomatic and economic relations with Cuba, there were no
warning signs, no Vatican-style puff of white smoke.
But if you were looking closely, you might have see a foreshadowing of
the deal flash past on the track, where since last season some standout
Cuban athletes have been competing in gear supplied by U.S. companies.
If legendary Cuban hurdler Dayron Robles competes at the Pan Am games in
Toronto this summer, he’ll do so in Nike shoes, a move unthinkable until
recently. Even three years ago, Cuban track and field athletes wore
Adidas regardless of their personal brand preference, and a long list of
rules kept American companies from doing business with Cuba’s state-run
But two years ago, the country’s track and field federation quietly
relaxed regulations, allowing athletes greater autonomy regarding
appearance fees and apparel deals, and hinting at the economic changes
President Obama’s December proposal calls for.
“Eighteen months before the announcement Nike had already infiltrated
Cuba,” says Kris Mychasiw, a Montreal-based agent who advised several
Cuban athletes after the rule change.
Brand mismatches between athletes and their national federations aren’t
rare. Athletics Canada, for example, is sponsored by Nike but can’t stop
athletes from seeking deals with other outfitters. When Donovan Bailey
set the 100-metre world record at the 1996 Olympics, he wore a
team-issued Mizuno kit and spikes supplied by Adidas, his primary sponsor.
Since the Castro regime outlawed pro sports in 1961, Cuban athletes
hadn’t had that luxury.
While the country’s prohibition often prompts baseball and boxing stars
to leave Cuba to pursue pro careers, track and field athletes have
competed at the sport’s top level with the national federation acting as
a de facto agent. When meets paid appearance fees and prize money to
Cuban athletes, the federation charges a steep commission. And when the
federation chose German-based Adidas as its official outfitter, the deal
applied to every athlete on the national team.
Before the 2012 Olympics, Robles complained publicly about the poor
training resources provided by the cash-strapped federation. The feud
prompted him to quit the national team in early 2013.
“They don’t give you the necessary things for training so you’re always
upset, and what’s worst is that people generally don’t know anything
about it and will judge me by the results,” Robles told The Associated
Press in 2012. “Nobody comes around to ask about anything, but they do
come to demand results.”
Robles re-appeared on the track circuit in the summer of 2013, competing
for a Monaco-based club and wearing Nike gear.
He has since returned to Cuba’s program but the federation adopted a
softer stance on individual endorsement deals. By the end of 2013, the
state-run body was allowing athletes to hire their own agents and reach
agreements with outfitters besides Adidas.
Nike couldn’t confirm whether it was compensating Cuban athletes with
cash in addition to product, nor whether the deals were made thru its
U.S. office or an overseas subsidiary.
Either way, Robles competed in Nike gear all of last season, and
sprinter Yunier Perez ran the fastest 60-metre time in the world last
year wearing Nike. But hurdle star and Pan Am medal contender Orlando
Ortega still wears Adidas.
“It’s going to be a huge opportunity,” Mychasiw says. “It’ll be like
baseball and boxing. I’m sure Under Armour isn’t too far behind (seeking
deals with Cuban athletes).”
Some Cuban baseball players have worn Under Armour gear in international
competition but the company says it has no formal agreement with Cuba’s
The move to allow athletes more freedom to seek sponsorships comes Cuba
undergoes broader reforms aimed at stimulating the economy via private
ownership of homes and businesses.
In 2010, Raul Castro’s government issued 75,000 new business licenses,
hoping to encourage entrepreneurship and create jobs to balance the
unemployment caused by public sector layoffs. A year later the
government legalized the buying and selling of property among
individuals, but limited ownership to two homes — a residence and a
Source: Cuba’s track federation allows athletes autonomy over
sponsorships | Toronto Star –