For Socialist Sports in Cuba

Erasmo Calzadilla

Casimiro Suárez

HAVANA TIMES — As a kid, I was fascinated by sports. I wanted to be like Cuban gymnast Casimiro Suarez, that artist of the rings that so impressed the world in the early 80s.

Adults would proudly tell me that our high-performance athletes weren’t professionals (as they were under capitalism) but amateurs. Later, I would learn that training full time, brining prestige to the regime and keeping the masses hypnotized was and continues to be their authentic profession.

Before the Special Period crisis that began in the early 90’s, Cuba would take many trophies back home from international sporting events. The vice of the dictatorship was more tightly wound than it is now, but people suffered a lot less – in part because, thanks to the government, national pride was somewhere up in the heavens. Athletes like Teofilo Stevenson and Alberto Juantorena kept us glued to the screens while an irrepressible madman was dismantling the country.

When I realized how the Champ was making use of Cuba’s champions (often with their consent), I was so angry I began to savor each of “our” defeats at international tournaments. Now older, I’ve come to understand that one needn’t throw out the baby with the bath water.

Cuban Sports Today

Cuban professional sports are facing a profound crisis. For many, the solution is clear and simple: eliminating existing restrictions (as Raul Castro’s reforms are doing) and allow our sport stars to enter the globalized world. I think differently: I think we should take advantage of the gap and steer the sector towards truly socialized sports. Economic, political and even geological reasons invite us to radically change the course we’ve set. How can we do it?

We could start by entirely renouncing professional sports. If anyone wants to go that way, let them do it on their own, but not as representatives of the country.

In keeping with this, Cuba’s sports institute (INDER) and other State sporting institutions should cease in their efforts to “produce” super-stars and focus on promoting sports in neighborhoods, schools, workplaces and prisons.

Of course, it is not enough to abjure professional sports and re-digest the State budget. We would have to lay the foundations of sports anew, throw out the paradigms and standards designed by those who have turned the sports world into a profitable business, look for new inspiration where alienation hasn’t contaminated things.

As Way of an Example

The son of a blogger in this site needed to take up a sport for health issues. His mother encouraged him to sign up for wrestling, being the most “affordable” option among those available. The kid is good, he’s won several competitions, but has been close to quitting several times because of how expensive the uniforms for tournaments are.

In the Canary Islands (the birth place of half of our grandparents), however, they practice a kind of wrestling that is both modest and spiritual. Canary wrestling has no need of a mat, ring or any special uniform (things that are difficult to find here). All they need is a circular sand lot and a perimeter rope. Why is it we never thought of practicing it here? Our hunger-proof colonized mentality?

Let’s Talk Baseball

Cuba’s Baseball League is today a den of objectionable behavior and values: everything from chauvinism and violence to competitiveness of the worst kind. It doesn’t matter what measures are implemented, ball players are going at each other, bat in hand, more and more.

Monday February 17, 2014

A kind of “hard-core” baseball is practiced in all of the country’s neighborhoods. People play rough but not violently, without resentment or hatred. How do we get this to be the spirit of our national baseball team? A good idea would be to put together teams choosing real amateurs, people from “below” willing to play out of pure pleasure. And to have women participate also. Cuban sports are already reeking of too much male sweat.


I am sure that such a proposal (like that of a car-free Havana) will not be well received by the majority. It probably won’t please high officials and decision-makers who live off the exploitation of professionals either. It’s a hard pill to swallow, but we’ll have to change whether we like it or not, because the world economy is about to collapse and current sports are far too expensive. If we don’t all die trying, we’ll have to rethink the system and go on playing.

Erasmo Calzadilla

Erasmo Calzadilla: I find it difficult to introduce myself in public. I've tried many times but it doesn’t flow. I’m more less how I appear in my posts, add some unpresentable qualities and stir; that should do for a first approach. If you want to dig a little deeper, ask me for an appointment and wait for a reply.

2 thoughts on “For Socialist Sports in Cuba

  • “Athletes like Teofilo Stevenson and Alberto Juantorena kept us glued to the screens while an irrepressible madman was dismantling the country”

    So you see: so-called socialist sport was but a distraction, something to keep the masses occupied and cheering. Bread and circuses, or maybe not so much bread, only circuses.

  • This post is worse than the car-free Havana post. First, Erasmo’s warm fuzzy memories of sports accomplishments in days gone bye before the Special Period were financed by the hundreds of millions of Soviet rubles Cuba begged for and received from their Soviet nursemaid. Second, sports at the local level? You mean like Little League and Pop Warner football? News flash, that takes more money than you think to organize. Cubans struggle to feed themselves. I can’t imagine asking them to pay for soccer equipment and uniforms as well. Third, the recent decline in Cuban baseball has as much to do with the improvement of baseball elsewhere around the world as it does with the failings of the Cuban program. Cuba does not lack for baseball talent, only that everybody else is getting better. Finally, the world economy is not about to collapse, despite what Granma reports.

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