Cuba’s Olympic wrestling champion Ismael Borrero defects

Gold medallist Ismael Borrero Molina of Cuba celebrates on the podium after the Men's Greco-Roman 59 kg competition on Day 9 of the Rio 2016 Olympic Games at Carioca Arena 2 on August 14, 2016 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.
Ismael Borrero

Wrestling star Ismael Borrero has become the latest Cuban athlete to defect. Borrero, who won gold in the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio, abandoned the Cuban delegation while they were in Mexico for the Pan-American Wrestling Championships, a Cuban official said.

Cuban athletes have a long history of defecting while competing abroad. The Cuban Institute of Sport said his defection was “a serious indiscipline within the Cuban sports system”. His current whereabouts are not known.

The 30-year-old athlete is one of Cuba’s top Greco-Roman wrestlers, winning the world championship in 2015 and then again in 2019 – the same year Cubans elected him sports personality of the year.

The Cuban delegation had hoped that Borrero would shine at the championships in Acapulco, Mexico, after a disappointing performance at the Olympic Games in Tokyo, where he lost his second bout after twice contracting Covid-19.

While defections of Cuban athletes are nothing new, recent months have seen a string of them – coinciding with an economic crisis on the Communist-run island.

In March, sailors Iris Laura Manso and Carlos Miguel Expósito fled to the United States, while long jumper Lester Lescay abandoned his delegation during a competition in Spain.

In July of last year, thousands of Cubans demonstrated across the island to voice anger over food and medicine shortages, price increases and the government’s handling of the Covid-19 pandemic.

The government cracked down hard in response, arresting hundreds of people and charging them with crimes including sedition, vandalism, theft and public disorder.

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