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.
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.