Joseph Blatter and the Future of Soccer in Cuba

Dmitri Prieto

FIFA president Joseph Blatter. Photo:

HAVANA TIMES — Joseph Blatter’s meeting with top Cuban officials during a recent visit to Cuba suggests that authorities on the island may seriously be considering investing in the development of soccer on the island.

Joseph Blatter (77) is the current president of FIFA. The Swiss economist became the head of this international soccer organization in 1998.

As has been observed in other articles published in the Havana Times, Cuba is experiencing a kind of identity mutation: every day, more and more people of all ages join the ranks of fans that cheer for different soccer teams (chiefly from Spain, for some reason), and kids on the street kick around soccer balls, making Havana recall a city in Italy or Brazil.

The other side of this mutation is the apparent decline in people’s interest in baseball.

In another post I wrote about how Cuba’s sub-20 team had classified for the World Soccer Cup championship.

Though Blatter’s visit some weeks ago did not enjoy much attention from Cuba’s media, we have been seeing more and more coverage of international matches and a significant degree of attention devoted to Cuban soccer players.

One of the positive aspects of Blatter’s visit I happily took note of was that, during his sojourn in Cuba, no journalist dared mention the “Cuban Ball Mastery School”, a supposed space for learning and training which, according to the media, has led several Cuban athletes to break world records in the area of mastering the ball using different parts of the body and assuming the most spectacular postures.

In my opinion, and with all due respect to those who practice such a modality of the sport, the virtual nature of the “school” and this business of breaking mastery records in a sport where goals are what matter, evinces a kind of jingoistic obsession with the exotic and the spectacular and is at odds with the competitive team dynamics of soccer.

Luckily, it seems Blatter did not touch on this issue.

Soccer in Cuba. Photo: Ernesto González

I wonder if at least one of the agreements that Cuba’s authorities reached with the FIFA is aimed at creating programs that will provide young people who use city streets to play impromptu soccer matches with spaces where they can practice and train for the sport.

The spontaneity with which a match of this nature can be thrown speaks of the people’s capacity to self-organize, and one of my humble wishes is to see such spontaneously-organized realities become more common at neighborhood level, become veritable schools of self-empowerment that afford teenagers and adults a “moral” alternative to other, more pernicious competitive practices.

Throwing impromptu soccer matches between young people from different neighborhoods can become an alternative to the clashes between gangs of teenagers which, unfortunately, are beginning to emerge in Cuba’s large cities.

I can only hope the FIFA will act in support of a peaceful future for these neighborhoods.

Dimitri Prieto-Samsonov

Dmitri Prieto-Samsonov: I define myself as being either Cuban-Russian or Russian-Cuban, indiscriminately. I was born in Moscow in 1972 of a Russian mother and a Cuban father. I lived in the USSR until I was 13, although I was already familiar with Cuba-- where we would take our vacation almost every year. I currently live on the fifth floor of an apartment building in Santa Cruz del Norte, near the sea. I’ve studied biochemistry and law in Havana and anthropology in London. I’ve written about molecular biology, philosophy and anarchism, although I enjoy reading more than writing. I am currently teaching in the Agrarian University of Havana. I believe in God and in the possibility of a free society. Together with other people, that’s what we’re into: breaking down walls and routines.