Cuba Sports, Another Challenge for Reform

By Fernando Ravsberg

Top level are the most expensive if we can’t find a way to make them self-sufficient.
Top level sports are the most expensive if we can’t find a way to make them self-sufficient.  Photo: Raquel Perez Diaz


HAVANA TIMES — Third world countries are like poor families that need to have their priorities straight so that they can wisely distribute their small budgets. They can’t have everything and sometimes an Olympic medal costs more than its weight in gold to get a hold of.

Sports are essential in any society and, in an underdeveloped country, even more so because it creates large savings in public health spending. However, this kind of sport is for the masses, the one that they teach in schools and that people do throughout their entire lives.

The other kind, which competes in the Olympics, is very expensive. The first Cuban Olympic medal was won in fencing, an extremely expensive sport, where you have to invest in athletes for years before you know whether they meet the grade or not.

In recent years, there have been projects to promote sport among the masses.
In recent years, there have been projects to promote sport among the masses.  Photo: Raquel Perez Diaz

Those who criticize Cuba’s results in Rio should ask themselves whether they are willing for health, education and culture budgets to be used instead on Olympic sports, or that they replace subsidized food rations or cut back on oil supplies.

The results achieved by Cuban athletes at the Olympics match the enormous investments the government has made in it for decades. The problem now is that there is no more money and Cuba’s creditors demand payment on the loans they took out, amongst other things, to strengthen sports.

The big question is, how can Cuba maintain the level attained and, even, multiply these achievements? Cuba has proven that is able to find creative solutions in other sectors and it should do the same with sports, where they have a huge source of human resources.

The country has an enormous reserve of athletes. In Rio, Cubans won 18 medals, 11 under the national flag and 7 more under other flags. Furthermore, athletes from different countries were accompanied by trainers who were born and trained in Cuba.

In a country that is aging as much Cuba is, investing is mass sport for senior citizens is crucial.
In a country that is aging as much Cuba is, investing is mass sport for senior citizens is crucial.  Photo: Raquel  Perez Diaz

Cuba’s results at the Olympic haven’t seemed to please many but it’s an incredible achievement for a third world country, with very little natural resources, a weak economy and a population of just over 13 million people [on and off the island].

Since 1959, the Government has given athletes everything they’ve needed but they’ve demanded absolute loyalty to amateur sports, so much so that those who decided to play professionally have been considered “deserters” and were denied access to the country for life.

It’s true that some things to do with professional sports don’t seem to make a lot of sense, like in Spain for example, where they pay millions and millions to a soccer player while hospital wards are being closed because of a lack of funding or university enrollment fees are being increased.

This is the world that we have to live in and it will continue to be this way until we human-beings learn how to put our priorities in a better order, understanding that a doctor or a teacher are a lot more crucial to our existence than Ronaldo or Messi.

Cuban fencer, Ramon Fonst
Cuban fencer, Ramon Fonst

Cuba has taken some steps, but at such a slow pace that we’ve already lost Yulieski Gourriel and other top athletes. Cubans who compete for other countries are looked down upon, while at the same time they are denied the right to defend the Cuban flag at the Olympics.

Ironically, Cuba’s first Olympic medal was won by Ramon Fonst, an emigre who was trained in France. Learning about our country’s history will not only help us understand and build the present, it will also help us to draw out a path for the future.

Cuba doesn’t have the resources to continue to spend millions on the training of athletes who then go on to compete for wealthy countries. And one of the root causes of this “deserter” epidemic is the out-dated laws that guide Cuban sports.

Emigration is unstoppable because athletes want to earn better salaries and have the opportunity to compete at the top professional events. This also happens in Brazil, however, there, they don’t deny Neymar his right to participate in the Olympics and win the gold medal for his country.

Mijain Lopez, the Cuban Olympic champion of Greco-Roman wrestling.
Mijain Lopez, the Cuban Olympic champion of Greco-Roman wrestling.

Maybe the path Cuba needs to take is that of breaking down borders and accept the fact that the Cuban nation lives where Cubans love their country. When a baseball player plays in the Major Leagues or a volleyball player plays in Italy, we should think of it like they are doing their postgraduate studies abroad.

It seems that there’s nothing left to do but open the doors so that athletes can move around freely, which has been happening in the world of culture for quite some time now. Don’t worry, there will be many Carlos Acosta’s who come back to teach our youth everything they’ve learned on their travels around the world.

2 thoughts on “Cuba Sports, Another Challenge for Reform

  • I”m Glen from Canada,i have been going to Cuba for the past 25 years and for me the sports in cuba,especially baseball gives me alot of joy.I cannot understand why the baseball and other sports would cost so much money in cuba when the solution was showen to us by the Russians in the 1970″s.Take ice hockey for a example,the Russians and Americans came up with a solution.The Russians would send there best players to play ice hockey in the USA for a price,back then i think the cost was $200,000 dollars per player and the Russians would send 1 player and recieve the money for that player,$2000,000 and put that money that they would recieve into their hockey program where their sport got the money to develop their younger players.For example the Cuba goverment send 10 baseball players at a cost of 1 million dollars per player to the states then the cuban baseball program would be able to to get by with this money to develop and sustain their baseball program No money from the cuban goverament,The sport would provide for themselves and you could use this formular for any and all sports in cuba and the goverment would not have to provided $1.00 into any sport program.I hope that i explained myself enough for you to understain,Thank you Glen Reaume

  • The Castro regime rewards the top athletes at considerable cost. I know of two athletes rewarded for their endeavours.
    One, a world gold medallist was rewarded with a new house of substantial size – much larger than the normal 2 bedrooms and with a double garage – just imagine, a double garage in Cuba. and the other with a new car. As followers of this site will recall, a five year old Peugeot was sold by the state agency in Havana for $86,000 so a new car has high value.
    Pleading poverty when able to give out such rewards is rather naïve.

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