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Jai Alai supporters in Florida optimistically await the outcome of negotiations at the House of Representatives


Although the situation is not easy, Jai Alai players in the US don't want to lose hope (Photo: JM Fundazuri)
Although the situation is not easy, Jai Alai players in the US don't want to lose hope (Photo: JM Fundazuri)


Florida's House of Representatives reconvened a few days ago, to discuss this year's Budget. Amongst other topics, the situation and future of Jai Alai is also on the table. “We are in good spirits,” said Mercedes Mendive, active supporter of the sport and spouse of recently retired player Fernando Lejardi, during a conversation with “Things are going to work out in a positive way, but we'll have to continue fighting.” The meetings are scheduled to be finished by the end of February.

Elko, NV/Miami, FL. Mendive's optimism lies, in part, in the fact that Dania's and Miami's frontons are still bringing young players from the Basque Country, like Jon Goenega, from Mutriku, in Bizkaia, whose visa will be issued soon. “And there are ten or twelve more (pilotaris) to come to Dania too,” added Juan Mari Fundazuri.

Fundazuri is the Pelotari's Union Representative (UAW-IJAPA), and also believes there is reason to be optimistic: “The situation is a little scary, but seeing these players coming from Euskal Herria with courage brings us optimism.”

Mendive, who has recently moved to Elko, Nevada with her family, but still has strong bonds with the Sunshine State, sees a difference in the society of Miami. “Before, the CEO, (David Jonas), didn't want to be bothered with new visas for new players and was trying to get rid of Jai Alai.  Now, however, he has started to bring new players. Maybe he is realizing the importance of the sport,” she says.

Fundazuri plays the devil's advocate when he says that “still, nowadays, many people in Miami don't know what Jai Alai is anymore. Older people do, but besides that...”

However, what most Miamians are clear about is that “they don't want to become a new Las Vegas,” states the representative. And that's a key point, since what Paramutuels are fighting for in the House of Representatives is a more lax legislation that would allow them to install as many slot machines as possible, and to expand their Casinos, without having to keep Jai Alai games -along with horse and dog races, which are also in the brink of extinction-.

“Basically, what the Paramutuels are trying to show is that Jai Alai and the races are not bringing in any revenue, just more expenses,” in the words of Fundazuri. The House has not yet addressed the topic that affects the Basque sport but Dough Russel, the lobbyist who's defending the pelotaris' rights in Tallahassee, has already send Fundazuri a list of representatives that might be receptive with the athletes' needs.

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