Our so-called “Revolutionary” Sports

By Pedro Pablo Morejon

HAVANA TIMES – I have the six movies about Rocky Balboa, the legendary and fictitious boxer, played by Sylvester Stallonee. In the third movie, there is a scene where doctors warn Rocky that he shouldn’t go back into the ring. Why? Irreversible brain damage, according to a CAT scan. A common injury among boxers after years of practicing that sport.

It led me to think about Cuban boxing and other sports. For years, we have been hearing that professional sports are dehumanizing, transforming athletes into nothing more than a commodity at capital’s service.

Professionalism was demonized. Amateur sports, what the authorities call “revolutionary” sport here in Cuba, was presented as the best option for any athlete who wanted to reach glory and self-fulfillment as both a human being and competitor.

I remember reading an article in the official press, years ago, about Kid Chocolate, that great world champion and one of the best boxers ever to walk this Earth, trying to present him as a victim of professional boxing.

However, the fact that he died poor, in Havana in 1988, was a crushing blow to the alleged consideration and respect for the glory of Cuban sports that “the Revolution” boasts about.

Using so much manipulation, they try to hide an obvious injustice: Human exploitation for man’s propaganda agenda, dedicating their entire lives to sport only to end up poor and sick.

I think about so many Cuban boxers, formidable fighters who have gone down in our history, many of whom suffered permanent damage, such as Angel Herrera (Olympic and world champion), Sixto Soria (world champion), and Douglas Rodriguez (world champion), just to mention a few whose lives have been lost somewhere between oblivion and poverty, after they retired. Only a few champions have been able to escape this fate.

An athlete who dedicates their life to put on a show that crowds enjoy, deserves to be compensated for his efforts, and even more so in the case of those who take part in dangerous sports such as boxing.

No athlete deserves to be called a traitor because they want a little bit of respect for their hard work and talent, deciding to leave Cuba to compete in other competitions or leagues. Nobody has the right to keep them on their knees using the false argument that they were invested in and given training, so they have to be eternally grateful. Everybody knows that in Cuba sport is a national return in terms of propaganda and financial revenue.

Yep, because times have changed and alleged “principles” have too. Nobody rants and raves about professional sports anymore. The Regime needs hard currency, so many athletes are sublet to compete in foreign leagues. There are Cuban baseball players in Japan and other countries, and they would play in the Major Leagues if the Embargo didn’t forbid it.

The same thing goes for boxing, volleyball, basketball…, which better athletes’ lives. But one thing is for sure, they are leased out and used as a commodity, the thing that the government criticized so much, and INDER (the state body that signs the contracts) gives the Socialist State it’s fine cut, giving a percentage to Athletes. In other words, pragmatism via their so-called “revolutionary” sport.

Pedro Morejón

I am a man who fights for his goals, who assumes the consequences of his actions, who does not stop at obstacles. I could say that adversity has always been an inseparable companion, I have never had anything easy, but in some sense, it has benefited my character. I value what is in disuse, such as honesty, justice, honor. For a long time, I was tied to ideas and false paradigms that suffocated me, but little by little I managed to free myself and grow by myself. Today I am the one who dictates my morale, and I defend my freedom against wind and tide. I also build that freedom by writing, because being a writer defines me.

20 thoughts on “Our so-called “Revolutionary” Sports

  • Pragmatism is my favourite ‘ism.
    If only there were more of it around.
    I look forward to a day when a full and inclusive Cuban Baseball Team takes the field…..
    Such a team would ‘pragmatize’ the f**k out of any national team any other country could possibly put out.
    Now that would get Cubans a buzzin the length and breath of The Pearl of the Caribbean and that’s for sure…..

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  • If you were a real pragmatist you would realize they are great baseball players from many countries in the world.
    The Dominican Republic is like a baseball factory.
    However the majority in the best league MLB are still Americans.

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    • Brad, Dominican Republic citizens like Cubans and those from another 35+ countries are all Americans.

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  • If you are talking sports in Cuba can we never forget Javier Sotomayor the 1992 Olympic high jump champion. His personal best of 2.45 m (8ft ½ in.) made him the only person to have cleared that height. It is my understanding to this date he still holds that unprecedented high jump record. Amazing! He has also numerous other sporting accolades – IAAF World Championships – and other wins under his belt.

    It is also my understanding he retired in Cuba though he did have the glorious opportunity to gain financial freedom and independence outside his home country. As a true Cuban patriot he chose his “home” in Cuba and did not desire abundant fame and fortune outside his patriotic homeland. Good for him.

    As the article mentions, not all Cuban athletes want to remain in Cuba but want to ply their trade elsewhere where there is great potential for financial security and monetary benefits for their families. Nobody can blame them for such a universal human incentive: economic survival.

    It really is unfortunate that the Cuban regime uses athletes as state property to be leased out to the highest bidder to help mismanaged, corrupt government coffers. Seems like a form of slavery where the athlete must adhere to his/her dictatorial government master.

    Cuba does produce some of the best, elite, proficient, professional (but don’t get paid) baseball players in the world but, unfortunately, because of dictatorial decrees they cannot demonstrate on the world stage their outstanding sporting skills and financially earn, when they are in their prime, what the baseball market dictates.

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  • There are great players from the various baseball playing nations.
    MLB is the best domestic standard (due to the fact that the big money on offer attracts most of the world’s best players). But in terms of international baseball, the stats point toward Japan having the strongest national team in terms of wins and consistency. The USA is the cradle of baseball and produces outstanding players. It’s national team has shown a marked improvement in recent years (once the hierarchy cottoned on to the fact that Baseball has now become an international sport).
    My point is that if the Cuban national team were picked according to merit rather than according to politics, then they would be world beaters.
    However, I have to admit to a slight degree of bias.

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  • Surprised that there was no mention of Teófilo Stevenson. He lived in poverty after his retirement from boxing. If the Stalinists had permitted him to have just one fight against Mohammed Ali, he would have been financially set for life.

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  • The great Teofilo Stevenson turned down the offer of millions to fight Mohammed Ali saying something along the lines of preferring the affection of the Cuban people (to whom he was an idol).
    By Cuban standards he was well off. He didn’t live in poverty at all. His biggest problem according to what Cuban friends tell me, was that he acquired a bit too much of a liking for the drink. But apparently he was so popular in Cuba he would never have to buy his own drinks when he was out and about.

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  • Reply to Circles: A native American is a term used to describe the indigenous peoples of the United States.
    A Cuban American is used to refer to someone in the US of Cuban decent.

    I believe the term native American is under discussion to include natives outside the US as maybe it should. Another thought for another day i guess.

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    • The reality is that anyone from Mexico is as much an American as someone from the United States. Likewise people from Paraguay.

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  • I know this comment may rub some people the wrong way but…I’ve coached youth sports in the US, played youth sports, high school sports and some lower level college sports. I like watching professional sports but I don’t usually care who wins. What I love about sports are teamwork, sportsmanship, quality of play, and when a sport reveals the love of the game between opponents. Victory is important to some degree, but sport is a shared activity among opponents that should lead to camaraderie and brotherhood/sisterhood. So for me, as hard and poor as life is in Cuba, I truly believe that I have observed more happiness among kids playing street ball in Cuba than I see among US kids who play our current version of organized youth sports here. Stress, pressure, fixation on expensive gear, kids whining about everything from their gear to playing time to winning and losing and the referees’ bad calls…and parents arguing about all of it. It’s not a good version of sports. This is not a comprehensive justification of poverty or lack of supplies in Cuba; it’s not to say that poor people are happier. It’s not to say that kids happy playing street ball might not prefer to have nicer gear, irrigated grass fields, or food in the fridge when they go home. And yes I realize that some kids in the US still have fun playing. But it is just what I’ve seen first hand, empirically.

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  • Read _Pitching Around Fidel_, by S.L. Price. Chapter 3 tells a much different story of Stevenson in his post-boxing years.

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  • Dan
    You make an interesting point. Professional sport can sometimes seem to be more to do with business than with the original meaning of the term ‘sport’.
    One thing about kids playing in the parks and streets in Cuba is the simple fact that it is safe for them to do so.
    In British cities most people are too scared to let their kids play out without adult supervision.

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  • Bob,
    Re: Stevenson – I’m just going by what Cuban people tell me – That he had his problems in later life and that these were largely personal and as a result of a drink problem rather than poverty. According to what people have told me he was relatively well off by Cuban standards. Obviously that doesn’t relate in any way to well off by say, Floyd Mayweather standards.
    Thanks for the book reference. I have googled it and it looks interesting. Hope to give it a read.
    My own view regarding the article is that elite professional sport is too business orientated. Cuban sport is too politicised.
    I will say though that I’ve caught Cuban baseball games in several stadia and when it’s play off time and the place is packed, it is an absolute marvel.

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  • I find it rewarding to note that in mentioning individual Cuban sports legends, two of the four that I specifically mentioned in ‘Cuba Lifting the Veil’ were named – Janvier Sotomayer and Tefilo Stevenson. For interest, the other two I named in the book, were Alberto Juantoreno (el Caballo) and Yipsi Moncano Gonzalez.

    There is little doubt that Cuba is probably per capita, the most successful sports country in the world. Even more astonishing is that most of the success has been achieved by black athletes although officially Cuba says that only 9.9% of the population (ie: little more than i million) is black.

    Regarding Tefilo Stevenson, when I was introduced at a paladar, he was with two other men, they and I drank beer, Tefilo drank water. He and I moved to a separate table where we conversed in English. I saw no trace of alcoholism as inferred by NIck, his eyes were clear, his speech lucid and he had a very detailed memory That was less than two years prior to his untimely death. He was a very great Cuban.

    Sotomayer’s incredible record high jump was achieved in Salamanca in 1983, and as Stephen points out, has never been equalled although 37 years have passed! Another world record that stood for over twenty years was that of Sebastian Coe in the 800 metres. He now presides over the IAAF.

    I know the location of the big house with triple garage, that the State built as a reward for Yipsi who now holds a significant position in Cuban sport.

    Where to look for the next Cuban achievements? Maybe both gold and silver in the women’s discuss at the eventual 2021 Olympics. Also there is a chance that an exiled Cuban who now represents Spain, may win the hotly contested 110 metre men’s hurdles – his father lives near our home.

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  • Mr MacD,
    Interesting regarding Teofilo. I’ve heard various tales which I won’t go into here because I have no idea as to their veracity. Several people have mentioned drinking but perhaps he had got over it.
    I’m very pleased to hear of his well-being when you met him. He was a great boxer and a hero in Cuba.
    So did you get any impression of any regrets or any sign of poverty?

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  • No Nick, although a Cuban he was able to afford the paladar and had good clothes. Although a living legend in the sporting world, he was quite modest to talk to. Nice slow smile and his handshake was firm but not over powerful. Neither of us mentioned politics. When introduced, my initial comment was that it was a privilege to meet such a great Cuban. It was, and remains so.

    I was fortunate in attending a school that has produced some world class athletes – you may for example being a Brit, remember the Brownlee brothers – and sportsmen, and in student days I represented the university at both Rugby and swimming. I first played against London Scottish when only seventeen years of age. ln my long ago Rugby days, I had the pleasure of playing with and against some legendary players, but virtually without exception like Tefilo, they were modest about their achievements.

    As a challenge to you, can you name the only Rugby player in history to play in four different positions for the British Lions? At Club level I had the pleasure of being his vice-captain. Imagine playing every week with such a talent. That too like meeting Tefilo, was a privilege.

    Another factor which I know you will like, is that politics seldom reared its ugly head. But ever increasing levels of professionalism has I think changed that. Sadly, now never a sports page appears without it.

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  • A-Ha !
    You see Mr MacD, we do agree on some things!!
    I was most sorry when the great Stevenson died. He was only 60. (He was one of those Cubans that was always referred to by his surname). As I have said, I heard various things about him in Havana. Maybe this was partly due to him being from Oriente. You know how Habaneros can be about Orientales.
    Apart from that he really was an absolute national hero. I’m very pleased for you that you had the chance to meet him and are able to report his well being at that time.

    And yes, it’s always wise to stay off the topic of politics. It causes endless disputes.

    I’m afraid I’m no expert on Rugby but I have heard of the Brownlea Brothers.
    I recall that one of them famously helped his injured, limping brother over the line to complete a race. Proper true sporting spirit huh?

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  • Yes, the Brownlee brothers took gold and silver medals in the Triathalon of the 2012 London Olympics. Alistair had also won the gold four years earlier, along with world championships. It was he who assisted his brother.

    The answer to the Rugby question, is K J F Scotland (known as Kenny), who played at full back, right wing, centre and fly half (equivalent of quarter back) in addition to being the kicker for the British Lions.

    Few now recall that it was Kenny, who decided that rather than kicking the ball from a fixed position with a direct run and using the toe, it would be more effective to take a curving run-up and use the instep of the foot. That was not only then adopted in Rugby Union, but in Rugby league and American football – changing that aspect with kickers now slotting them over the bar with regularity.

    Kenny was only 5′ 9″ in height and weighed 165 lbs. He oozed talent.

    With regard to Tefilo, that is how I always heard him referred to. The whole of Cuba mourned his loss.

    If perchance we ever meet in Cuba, then let the conversation centre on sport and possibly the arts! I don’t wish to have to pour good beer over your head because of your incorrect political opinions! I assume that we can somehow find some Bucanero!

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  • Mr MacD, If you’re going to pour beer over those with ‘incorrect political opinions’ then you’re going to look pretty strange dousing yourself with any Bucanero that you may find.
    I would be happier to simply drink mine. Waste not, want not.
    Sport and Arts it shall be…….

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