Venezuelan League shuts down

By Giner Garcia
January 2, 2003

The Venezuelan League cancelled the remainder of its regular season just before the end of December, 27 days into the general strike in the country that brought on massive civil unrest.

Of the 248 regular-season games scheduled, 88 ended up cancelled. The league was still looking at ways to stage its playoff competition and determine a champion to send to the Caribbean Series, which begins Feb. 2 in Carolina, Puerto Rico.

In the middle of high political tensions, different groups of Venezuelan society have confronted president Hugo Chavez with a national strike that began Dec. 2, asking for new general elections, a referendum on Chavez' presidency, or Chavez' resignation. The strike–led by PDVSA, the national petroleum company–has provoked a severe fuel crisis. In many cases, Venezuelan motorists have had to wait 12-24 hours in lines at gas stations.

Venezuelan League president Ramón Guillermo Aveledo said the playoffs could begin only if the league can guarantee the players' and fans' security, transportation for the teams, media safety and concessions sales to continue in the stadiums.

If those conditions were met by Jan. 10, the playoff would begin that day with six of the league's eight teams participating. Aragua, Lara, Caracas and La Guaira–the top two teams in each division–would be guaranteed spots, and two teams among Magallanes, Zulia and Oriente would stage a mini-playoff to determine two wild cards to participate in the championship round-robin.

If, however, safe conditions couldn't be established until Jan. 15, the playoff would begin with five teams: the top two in each division and the current wild card, Magallanes. The league normally plays a round-robin playoff and a seven-game final between the top two teams, but a tournament-style playoff is likely.

If conditions aren't safe by Jan. 15, the playoffs will be cancelled as well. Should that happen, the league will select a team to send to the Caribbean Series.