Two Cuba's national soccer team players did not show up for a tournament in Houston and team officials worried the two had defected.
The Cubans lost in Houston Wednesday night in the first round of the 2007 CONCACAF Gold Cup soccer tournament and were eliminated. After the 5-0 loss to Honduras, Cuban coach Raul Gonzalez declined to say whether Osvaldo Alonso and Lester More defected.
More apparently went missing at a previous stop in East Rutherford, New Jersey; Alonso did not return from a group shopping trip before the game in Houston.
"I'm a football man, not a politician. I will not answer that question," Gonzalez told reporters.
"They went for the gold. I hope they don't end up with thorns. The ones who take another road take it because they want to take it."
The possible defections would not be the first time Cuban athletes have taken such a step while competing abroad. Cuba is a powerhouse in international baseball and at least 20 players have defected since 1991. Some have had great success in the major leagues.
No one answered at the Cuban Interests Section in Washington, D.C., and a call to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, which would handle defections, was not immediately returned.
Under the so-called "wet-foot, dry-foot" policy, Cuban defectors are generally allowed to remain in the United States, as long as they reach U.S. soil.
Zac Emmons, Gold Cup spokesman, said the team planned to fly back to Cuba on Thursday morning. Gonzalez and Alonso had checked out of their hotel on Thursday morning.
CONCACAF, the governing body of soccer, issued a statement before the game saying it would not comment on rumors of a Cuban defection.
The choice of the city of Helsinki is not incidental as the capital of Finland had hosted US-Soviet negotiations on the limitation of nuclear stockpiles in 1969