“El periódico ha de estar siempre como los correos antiguos, con el caballo enjaezado, la fusta en la mano y la espuela en el tacón.  Debe desobedecer los apetitos del bien personal y atender imparcialmente al bien público”.
José Martí

Cuba Sports, Another Challenge for Reform

Mijaín López campeón cubano de lucha grecorromana

Mijain Lopez, the Cuban Olympic champion of Greco-Roman wrestling.

Third world countries are like poor families that need to have their priorities straight so that they can wisely distribute their small budgets. They can’t have everything and sometimes an Olympic medal costs more than its weight in gold to get a hold of.

Sports are essential in any society and, in an underdeveloped country, even more so because it creates large savings in public health spending. However, this kind of sport is for the masses, the one that they teach in schools and that people do throughout their entire lives.

The other kind, which competes in the Olympics, is very expensive. The first Cuban Olympic medal was won in fencing, an extremely expensive sport, where you have to invest in athletes for years before you know whether they meet the grade or not.

Durante los últimos años ha habido iniciativas para promover el deporte de masas. Foto: Raquel Pérez Díaz

In recent years, there have been projects to promote sport among the masses. Photo: Raquel Perez Diaz

Those who criticize Cuba’s results in Rio should ask themselves whether they are willing for health, education and culture budgets to be used instead on Olympic sports, or that they replace subsidized food rations or cut back on oil supplies.

The results achieved by Cuban athletes at the Olympics match the enormous investments the government has made in it for decades. The problem now is that there is no more money and Cuba’s creditors demand payment on the loans they took out, amongst other things, to strengthen sports.

The big question is, how can Cuba maintain the level attained and, even, multiply these achievements? Cuba has proven that is able to find creative solutions in other sectors and it should do the same with sports, where they have a huge source of human resources.

The country has an enormous reserve of athletes. In Rio, Cubans won 18 medals, 11 under the national flag and 7 more under other flags. Furthermore, athletes from different countries were accompanied by trainers who were born and trained in Cuba.

Cuba’s results at the Olympic haven’t seemed to please many but it’s an incredible achievement for a third world country, with very little natural resources, a weak economy and a population of just over 13 million people [on and off the island].

En un país que envejece a la velocidad de Cuba, invertir en el deporte masivo para la tercera edad es vital. Foto: Raquel Pérez Díaz

In a country that is aging as much Cuba is, investing is mass sport for senior citizens is crucial. Photo: Raquel Perez Diaz

Since 1959, the Government has given athletes everything they’ve needed but they’ve demanded absolute loyalty to amateur sports, so much so that those who decided to play professionally have been considered “deserters” and were denied access to the country for life.

It’s true that some things to do with professional sports don’t seem to make a lot of sense, like in Spain for example, where they pay millions and millions to a soccer player while hospital wards are being closed because of a lack of funding or university enrollment fees are being increased.

This is the world that we have to live in and it will continue to be this way until we human-beings learn how to put our priorities in a better order, understanding that a doctor or a teacher are a lot more crucial to our existence than Ronaldo or Messi.

Cuba has taken some steps, but at such a slow pace that we’ve already lost Yulieski Gourriel and other top athletes. Cubans who compete for other countries are looked down upon, while at the same time they are denied the right to defend the Cuban flag at the Olympics.


Cuban fencer, Ramon Fonst

Ironically, Cuba’s first Olympic medal was won by Ramon Fonst, an emigre who was trained in France. Learning about our country’s history will not only help us understand and build the present, it will also help us to draw out a path for the future.

Cuba doesn’t have the resources to continue to spend millions on the training of athletes who then go on to compete for wealthy countries. And one of the root causes of this “deserter” epidemic is the out-dated laws that guide Cuban sports.

Emigration is unstoppable because athletes want to earn better salaries and have the opportunity to compete at the top professional events. This also happens in Brazil, however, there, they don’t deny Neymar his right to participate in the Olympics and win the gold medal for his country.

Maybe the path Cuba needs to take is that of breaking down borders and accept the fact that the Cuban nation lives where Cubans love their country. When a baseball player plays in the Major Leagues or a volleyball player plays in Italy, we should think of it like they are doing their postgraduate studies abroad.

It seems that there’s nothing left to do but open the doors so that athletes can move around freely, which has been happening in the world of culture for quite some time now. Don’t worry, there will be many Carlos Acosta’s who come back to teach our youth everything they’ve learned on their travels around the world.

El deporte de alto rendimiento es muy caro si no se crean mecanismos de autofinanciamiento. Foto: Raquel Pérez Díaz

Top level sports are the most expensive if we can’t find a way to make them self-sufficient. Photo: Raquel Perez Diaz

Translation: Havana Times

About Fernando Ravsberg

Nacido en Uruguay, corresponsal de Público en Cuba y profesor del post grado de “Información internacional y países del Sur” de la Universidad Complutense de Madrid. Fue periodista de BBC Mundo, Telemundo de EEUU, Radio Nacional de Suecia y TV Azteca de México. Autor de 3 libros, El Rompecabezas Cubano, Reportajes de Guerra y Retratos.


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