Cuban Sports and Coronavirus

By Ronal Quinones

A woman wearing a face mask poses for a photograph next to the Olympic Rings on March 13, 2020, in Tokyo.  Photo: Carl Court/Getty

HAVANA TIMES – All official sports events have been canceled until April 30th at least, in response to the global Coronavirus pandemic.

Teams who were already involved in their respective national championships, such as soccer, and those who were preparing for their own, such as baseball, are the only ones training. For now…

In the beginning, events with foreign participation were canceled as of March 14th, without any new dates being proposed.

The Giraldilla badminton tournament fell within this group, as well as the II Copa Amistad (Cuba-Australia rugby tournament), a FIFA soccer game against Nicaragua, the Varadero Half Marathon and the Caribbean table tennis tournament, as well as the upcoming Cuban Baseball League, scheduled to begin on April 11th with a new competition structure.

Cuban teams were also restricted from traveling abroad, with the exception of those who were directly linked to qualifications for the Olympics and Paralympics.

However, the latter have pretty much come to a standstill too, as there haven’t been any qualifying events after the Taekwondo and wrestling ones. The Americas Qualifying Event in Arizona for baseball was postponed even before the US closed its border.

From that moment, a campaign was launched to raise awareness within Cuban society in general, and especially within sports, about the effects of Coronavirus. In this regard, conferences have been held at the Institute of Sports Medicine and national gatherings, with an emphasis on sports with greater direct contact, such as judo, boxing, taekwondo, wrestling and other martial arts.

A competition was in full swing and couldn’t be canceled from the beginning: the national men’s softball tournament, which was taking place in Santiago de Cuba. However, this Thursday it had to be called off with Ciego de Avila declared the winners, without the regular calendar of games being fulfilled.

The competition was expected to have two rounds, the first with two games per day and the second round with only one game against each of the opponents, but the Coronavirus pandemic has forced the tournament to come to an end when there was still one game left to be played in the first round, and Ciego de Avila was at the head of the standings with seven wins and one loss.

Santiago de Cuba, the reigning champion until then, also had the same record but Ciego de Avila had a better run margin from their games including a 9-1 win and losing 4-1 in the games between the two top teams, so they took the championship that will go down in history for the way it came to an end.

National volleyball and fencing championships were also postponed, as well as the Cuba Athletics Cup. Every year, the turnout of fans to the Panamerican stadium isn’t that great for the latter event, and less people would have gone this year.

Another interesting thing about COVID-19’s effect on Cuba has been on the Major Leagues, as the first baseball player detected with the disease was a Cuban no less, a prospect playing for the New York Yankees. His name was not released.

On the other hand, those contracted by the National Institute of Sports (INDER) are all healthy, as the press discovered from Facebook, read here: Robertlandy Simon (volleyball), Pavel Caballero (handball) y Jasiel Rivero (basketball). Simon also mentioned his fellow countrymen playing in Italy, the country that has recorded the highest number of deaths caused by the disease.

More than 20 Cuban athletes are honoring contracts in Europe under the guidance of their respective national Federations, and in the face of the coronavirus outbreak, the vast majority are currently in social isolation at home, according to INDER.

Cuban shooters Leuris Pupo and Jorge Felix Alvarez are in a very unique situation, along with their trainer Meinardo Torres, as they have found themselves stranded in Peru, which decided to close its borders because of the pandemic.

After the preparatory phase had ended, they took to the Internet to say that they were looking for ways not to lose the work they had carried out during their stay, and to try and uphold a certain level of training. Tricep-building exercises and some weightlifting, as well as technical simulations without bullets, take up most of their morning and afternoon sessions.

The athletes will stay in Peru for now, shut away in the hotel they were staying at before taking part in the World Cup phases, where they were looking for their summer Olympics tickets, but these events were also canceled or postponed.

That said, the 40 athletes that are sure to take part in the Tokyo 2020 Olympics continue to train in Cuba, as well as the group that will look for their ticket when qualifications start up again, including judo players, rowers, tennis players, archers, canoeists, fencers, boxers, baseball players, triathletes, swimmers, divers, beach volleyball players and track and field representatives.

However, the lack of competitions and training is very important when it comes to their preparation, and the Japanese organizers and world sports authorities are still being stubborn.

Clearly, postponing or canceling the Olympic Games will have a huge economic impact, but the athletes’ health comes first, and it seems like this isn’t being valued as it should be. To give you just one example, apartments at the Olympic Village have already been sold in advance, and according to the contracts, the new tenants should move in between September and October.

The reality is that the initial date for the games in late July is still on, in spite of cases of Coronavirus and deaths worldwide being on the rise instead of falling, except for in China. In addition to the health risks this poses for competitors, there is the huge movement of viewers that a multisport event like this implies, and the Japanese also don’t want these events to be held without an audience.

Logic seems to indicate that with so many pre-Olympic tournaments still to be held, it’s pretty much impossible that the Olympic Games will kick off on July 24th like expected, but the International Olympics Committee seems to not only be willing to risk athletes’ health, but also the Games itself, as many won’t be in great shape because of a lack of training. All so they can prevent an internal economic crisis. For now, Cuba is watching from afar, and sports activities are pretty much paralyzed.

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