Heroes or Athletes

Dariela Aquique

Ana Fidelia Quirot

For some time — especially in places that feature comedy — people have been mocking a ridiculous and worn-out Cuban custom.

All too often we see our sports figures speaking in front of press cameras and microphones after having won a major competition, where they’ll utter something similar to the classic (now cliché) statement: “This medal is fo’ my people and fo’ the Commandant.”

That phrase was immortalized by the “glorious sports legend” Ana Fidelia Quirot, and this glorious sports language went on to become a part of the country’s competitive jargon. Even the intonations of narrators and commentators seem to be built on those, because all of them use the same verbose parlance; I’d dare say that even the pauses and inflections are always in the same place.

The national catalog of words is so unique that certain terms have been implanted here while the original meaning has been relegated to a second plane to become lost in the symbolism.

For example, a winning athlete in Cuba stops being called a champion or winner to immediately become “glorious,” a word that is now synonymous with perfection, charm, pleasure or satisfaction.

Reporters at international events, instead of describing the “praiseworthy performance” of whatever team, will recall patriotic speeches to say things like “they put the name of the homeland on high!” It gets to the point that everything Cubans do is politicized.

Elevated to standard-bearers when leaving to represent the country, it’s made to seem that sports teams are heading off to execute some monumental undertaking. Oaths are made in an almost military manner and fervent official statements are read.

When returning victorious, “They are compared to the heroes of the nation’s independence…”* and everyone gives the impression they’re reading the same speech.

If they run the bad luck of losing, they’ll return to the homeland as an embarrassed army that has eaten the dust of defeat. And if they return decimated because some member has deserted, that individual will be categorized as a traitor and the irresponsibility of allowing his/her defection will be analyzed in depth with the person or people who were in charge of that task within the group.

I cannot deny that the government has made monumental efforts in the development of sports in Cuba as well as in poor countries, but this mustn’t rebound against the right of individuality and personal decision by its athletes.

It would be beautiful to hear them say someday that they were dedicating their medals to their parents or to their children, or even say what they feel. With that we could see them as what they are: athletes, not heroes.

* Text taken from Brainstorm, from the series “Sex Machine Productions,” by Eduardo Del Llano