Sports Chauvinism & Cuba’s Media

Dariela Aquique 

Lazaro Borges. Photo:

As is custom, the Cuban press is up to its same old thing antics.  I was left dumbfounded the other day when I heard all of the praises being made during the sports segment of the TV news.

The commentator was making reference to the performance of young Lazaro Borges, the athlete who had just won the silver medal in pole vaulting at the 2011 World Athletics Championships in Daegu, South Korea.

It’s obvious that the young man deserves recognition and mention for his accomplishment.  He bettered his own personal record with a spectacular 5.90 meter vault that equaled the height of the gold medal winner, who finished in first only because he reached that height in fewer attempts.

But what was confounding about this news was that it wasn’t limited to reporting on this Cuban athlete’s prowess.  Instead they emphasized that for the first time a medal in this specialty was obtained by an athlete from the Third World, since this discipline had always been “monopolized” (to use their exact words) by the powerhouse countries of Europe, the United States and on one occasion by a South African.

I wonder: Are the World Championships and the Olympics Games sports competitions between athletes or contests between countries, tools for gauging their levels of social and economic development?

The journalist went through an entire song and dance routine, repeating over and over again that Latin America, the Caribbean and the whole Third World had in the person of Borges their pole vaulting champion for whom they should be proud.

The reporter also highlighted the fifth place in that same event going to Yarisley Silva, another unprecedented accomplishment for a Cuban – finishing ahead of the Russian Olympic champion, Yelena Isinbayeva.

All of this was in contrast to the news of the disqualification of Cuban hurdler Dayron Robles, which was barely mentioned.  It was touched upon, yes, but in a very brief comment and one that was not among the headlines of national broadcasts, despite the fact that it was regular feature for more than two days among all of the international press agencies and news websites.

If one keeps in mind that this involved a superstar of the sport, his having won or not was not the meat of the story; everything that happened around his performance was pertinent information that needed to be published.

But no, chauvinism doesn’t allow reporting on defeats or errors.  It’s necessary to highlight the victories and focus on those that — as our reporters say — “raise the name of the homeland up high.”

What news will be reported about this young pole-vaulter if it turns out that his recent performance was just a fluke?  Will they note his performance as the accomplishment of an individual?  I don’t think so.  With him being the first Third World pole-vaulting medalist, it will be worth highlighting that feat for quite some time as news, since this is what gives legs to sports chauvinism.