Former Cuban volleyball player Wilfredo Leon, who hopes to one day play for Poland internationally, says that he’s viewed in his home country as a “traitor” for defecting to obtain Polish citizenship. Talking with Russia’s rsport, where he’s preparing for the Russian Championship playoffs, Leon spoke of the move, his reasons behind it, and frustrations.
Leon has cleared all of the hurdles to represent Poland, except that he needs permission from the Cuban federation to do so – and the Cubans are bein uncooperaitve in the endeavor.
“I made a decision – I want to play for the national team of Poland,” Leon said. “This does not mean that I do not like Cuba. I love her. I was born and grew up there, where I was educated, and my family still lives there. But for some reason I decided not to play for the national team of Cuba, and she should respect my choice, my decision. It’s not what they think are some people who think that I chose Poland because of the economic and financial reasons. I gave Cuba all she wanted from me at the time, and paid a heavy price. Now I want to live for my family, for my own sake, for the sake of their new country. But Cuba does not want to accept it. That’s all. They call me a traitor, but I do not consider myself a traitor.”
The 23-year old Leon is one of the most highly-regarded young players in the world. At 6’7″ tall, the outside hitter spikes at 350cm (140in) and blocks at 346cm (136in). He made his Cuban National Team debut at just 14 years old, and at just 16 years old, he played on Cuba’s team that took gold in the NORCECA Championships and silver in the World Grand Champions Cup. He also won the title of best receiver at that year’s World League.
A year later, still a teenager, he helped lead Cuba to a silver medal at the 2010 World Championships.
In 2013, he defected from his home country, along with Yoandri Diaz, to play for professional teams abroad. As a member of Zenit Kazan, he’s been named the MVP and best outside hitter of the CEV Champions Leauge in both 2015 and 2016, and was the best outside hitter of the 2016 FIVB Club World Championships.
Leon is being handsomely rewarded by his new club – earning in the neighborhood of 500,000 Euros ($530,000) per season with his club Kazan.
Speaking of his new home in Kazan, Leon said that he finds the people generally friendly and polite, and that though he has encountered a few acts of racism, that they are mostly from young children – and not the norm.