The World Cup in Cuba

Text and Photos by Irina Echarry

Many Cubans were rooting for Brazil.

HAVANA TIMES, July 4 – The month of June arrived with something different that —though long awaited by many— did not cease to surprise people for its capacity to rally people. The World Cup is big time in Cuba, especially in the capital. Starting on June 11th, baseball went on vacation and soccer began being played in all the streets of Havana.

Our national team wasn’t ready to make it to this event, but notwithstanding, Cubans are lovers of this people’s sport. Since we couldn’t all travel to South Africa to root for our preferred teams, most of us settled for the matches broadcast on television.

However, this year we can also view the games of the second round, the quarter finals, the semi-finals and the grand finale for the gold broadcast live in large over movie theaters, the Yara Cinema (in the Vedado district) and the Payret Cinema (in Centro Havana). The live cinema broadcasts were made possible in coordination with the Cuban Film Institute and Cuban television.

Area resident Armando Crespo took a “momentary” break from his job to enjoy the faceoff between Brazil and the Netherlands: “This idea of showing the games at the cinemas is brilliant. Let’s hope they continue doing this with all sports, with baseball and the national series; that would be a blast… I work nearby and can sneak out, but there are people who can’t come to the morning showings but can make it in the afternoon. The big screen is not the same as television, the emotion is different.” Armando’s “moment” away from the job could make things a little thorny at work, but he says, “They’ll work things out without me being there for an hour or so, other times I cover for people when they need me to.”

A crowd of people surrounded the entrance of the Yara Cinema, where you could barely distinguish the line, as people wandered around in groups. The opinions of the fans could be heard without making much effort. The public screamed, yelled and got excited even before entering the auditorium.

Marelys came with some of her friends: “I can’t lose with Brazil, that’s my team and it’s the one that will win the Cup. I like having this chance to see the game with all my friends; you can talk with each other and express your emotions about whatever team wins or loses. Afterwards we can go across the street to the Coppelia ice cream parlor. It’s wonderful.”

Undoubtedly it was astonishing to be in contact with the world, experiencing the same pace. The World Cup allowed the island to come closer to the world vortex live, without any censors, without anyone correcting what is seen or hear about whatever match.

There were no political or economic rivals; the sport itself was the protagonist during this period of blue, yellow and orange T-shirts. It was the moment to recognize the power of digital technology, the Internet and the free exchange of information, leaving behind the stigma of betrayal that denies an understanding of those things for a good part of the population.

Down the street, the Riviera Cinema was also set up for the Brazil-Netherlands game. Those people who could not get into one theater could go to another one. No one who was interested was left standing outside. For five pesos [about 25 cents USD] members of the public accessed the dark halls. It was the time for you to sweat, run and kick the ball from your red-cushioned theater seat.

Alexander was situated in his seat. He smiled to a friend who was in the row behind and warned that the Netherlands had better be careful. “Look, I would have liked to have been able to go to South Africa to enjoy this game, but since I couldn’t, here I am at the cinema. This is done in many parts of the world; it is not an original idea of Cuba. Looking at the big screen and being seated among so many people, I can imagine that I’m in a stadium hoping that Kaká scores for Brazil… that’s what I always do. It’s not that I’m settling or resigning myself; I try to look at everything positively. The other thing, the trip, that can always wait for another occasion, if I ever get one. For the time being though, this is what I’ve got.”

The defeat of Brazil shocked the majority. Others hugged, celebrating the victory of the “orange machine.” A young woman dressed in green and yellow emerged from cinema hysterical, she couldn’t believe that her team was out of the competition.

Cubans, from their capital, are enjoying the Soccer World Cup in South Africa. They were moved by the goals, showed off the T-shirts of their favorite teams or simply savored in silence the chance to choose between one team and another, between television and the cinema.


Click on the tumbnails below to view all the photos in this gallery