BBC: The Business of Baseball in Venezuela

Hundreds of young boys in the Venezuelan town of Ciudad Alianza share the same dream – to play in a Major League baseball team.

For some, it might well become a reality. The Detroit Tigers runs a baseball academy in the small town in western Venezuela.

Other teams like the Tampa Bay Rays and the Philadelphia Phillies also run nearby training camps to scout and develop local talent.

The Major League is seen as the pinnacle of success

But they may not do so for much longer.

“The government makes it tough for the teams. The government makes too many rules, making it difficult and the safety in the streets is pretty bad,” says Pedro Chavez, a Tigers scout.

A few years ago, there were more than a dozen teams with academies in Venezuela, including the New York Mets, Houston Astros and St Louis Cardinals. Now that number is down to five.

The latest to leave were the Pittsburgh Pirates. A report on their website last month said “the instability and political climate in Venezuela is thought to have played a large role in the organization’s decision to pull out.”

NATIONAL SPORT

Baseball has been the number one sport in Venezuela since US oil workers introduced the game in the early twentieth century.

President Hugo Chavez is a huge fan, and recently threw a few balls himself outside the presidential palace in Caracas in a bid to prove to journalists that he was in rude health following months of cancer treatment.

Venezuela is also a great source of players for the Major League teams, and second only to the Dominican Republic in the number of foreign born players who make the roster each year.

But business conditions have become too tough for many teams to maintain a permanent presence in the country.

RISKY BUSINESS

President Chavez is no friend of the United States and his policies of expropriations and nationalizations have led to uncertainty for many in the private sector. Last year, he expropriated the Venezuelan subsidiary of US bottling company Owens Illinois.

Currency controls make conditions especially difficult for multinational or foreign companies operating in the country and inflation is extremely high, at over 20 percent for the year.

In a World Bank annual report released last week , Venezuela was considered one of the six worst countries for ease of doing business out of 183 economies that were analyzed.

“Venezuela and Zimbabwe went the furthest in making business regulation less business-friendly,” the report said. “Venezuela made paying taxes costlier for firms (in 2011).”

Business owners have to persevere

Katiuska Viona has first-hand knowledge of that. She runs a business importing and selling clothing from the United States.

“Everything here is complicated, but when you want to do something you can’t allow yourself to see it as complicated,” she say. “You have a job to do and you just have to get on with it.”

The Major League teams which still have a presence in Venezuela hope their rivals will return and once again join in Venezuela’s Summer League, seen as a testing ground for talented pitchers and hitters who might one day make it in the United States. In both sport and business, healthy competition raises everyone’s game.