Rogelio Manuel Diaz Moreno
HAVANA TIMES — This photograph was published in the website of Cuba’s radio broadcaster COCO. It was taken by photographer Reinier Batista, and it is meant to convey the good performance of Havana’s Industriales baseball team at the tournament sponsored by iron and steel company Antillana de Acero. There are a number of things in the photo that I think merit a closer look.
With jerseys like the one that batter Stayler Hernandez is wearing, Industriales appears to have become a living billboard for Cuba’s Bucanero beer. The repercussions of this should not be taken lightly.
Our government’s official journalists, often very concerned about the spread of lifestyles based on consumerism and frivolity, could well take on an interesting reflection on this matter. In my view, what we’re seeing is the natural expression of capitalist industry, and here it makes no difference whether the capitalist is an individual businessperson or the class of officials that make up the State. These companies try to promote the sale of the goods they produce to increase profits – no concerns about the overall repercussion of these invitations to consume, or the cravings awakened in people (particularly the young), come into play here.
The presence of commercial advertisements at sport events is a good indication of the meaning and nature of the activity. At the extreme end of the spectrum where Cuba’s political system operated for several decades, this type of publicity was entirely prohibited at the country’s stadiums and during programs broadcasted by the Cuban Radio and Television Institute (ICRT). There was some degree of flexibility when it came to the uniforms worn by teams, which could show the Adidas or other logo. Politicians and pro-government journalists and intellectuals frequently made mention of this “purity” of Cuban sports as one of its merits.
The Earth went around the sun a few times, the Berlin Wall was torn down and, though slowly, we too started to change. Commercial advertising at sporting events constitutes a powerful economic force. The market reforms being applied in our country make us perceive this as a natural consequence of current changes. Under the light of the economic laws of materialism and Marxism, it is easy to understand how such advertisement begins to conquer the spaces within reach.
We cannot lose from sight that the government has less and less resources to finance social programs and sporting activities. In fact, we could well ask ourselves whether the holding of the last few Antillana de Acero Cups hasn’t depended on the contribution of the sponsors (that would be a fairly important reason to become a bit more liberal in this respect).
In addition, we could resume the debate as to whether it is advisable for the State in an underdeveloped country to finance – exclusively or not – high-performance sports. One could argue that the priority should be the development of physical education programs and popular sports at the base level, and that the few available resources ought to be destined to these ends. This does not contradict the possibility of having high-performance sports be financed on the basis of profit-making mechanisms that include advertisement, sponsors, exchange of athletes among clubs and other means.
All of these issues should be discussed openly and sincerely, within civil society. The same old technocrats cannot be allowed to regulate experiment and use a province, a sporting competition, a trade and other mechanisms as guinea pigs at their whim and without subjecting themselves to control by the people.
The final decisions should be approved in a democratic fashion and, by necessity, bear in mind not only financial considerations, but cultural, civic and others as well. For instance, we may agree with having advertisement at games, but not for alcoholic beverages, as we’re seeing now, with the ads for Bucanero beer. In fact, it is prohibited – wisely, in my opinion – to enter stadiums with these types of drinks, because of the behavior that can result from the combination of drink and the passions awakened by the game. Imagine if cigarette companies were allowed to advertise freely anywhere, or if junk food was not subjected to any type of regulation. Capitalist profit mechanisms in sports also deepen social inequalities among regions, regions which already have base inequalities.
Socialism could assimilate, at some levels, the introduction of commercial advertisement into sporting events. Democratic control by the people could transform it into a tool for the financing of physical activity, health and wellbeing, as well as establish compensatory mechanisms. But for this, and for many more things, we need democratic and popular control of these mechanisms, so as to debate and direct these mechanisms with awareness.