Rogelio Manuel Diaz Moreno
HAVANA TIMES — The latest Pan-American Games came to an end and Cuban sports authorities are very much distressed. The local predictions made prior to the competition suffered from an excess of optimism. Cuba’s delegation came out in fourth place. The official aim of retaining the island’s second place was not reached.
“All of our work has been aimed at keeping the second place,” the director of the High Performance Sports Department of Cuba’s National Sports, Physical Education and Recreation Institute (INDER) had declared. A similar statement had been made by the president of this institute, Antonio Becali. In the days prior to the sporting event, Cuba’s official media publicized these predictions, assuming they were sure things.
Toronto’s playing fields demonstrated how utopian such intentions were. Most people like winning, and Cuban sport aficionados have been let down, judging from the comments left at open Internet fora.
By the looks of it, there was really not much basis for optimism. The economic hardships that befell our country following the collapse of the socialist block naturally deprived the sports sector of many resources. The fact many renowned athletes left the country also dealt a blow to all disciplines. We would have needed many miracles to beat the several nations that are ahead of us in many sports.
The likelihood of any one outcome, however, should not be the focus of our analyses. In fact, the analysis is already being conducted where it shouldn’t. These debates should be held throughout the nation, by the working class, the one that produces the resources that others later devote to this or that activity. Only a democratic forum that includes all of society can lead to a proper debate about the validity of a given aim and the relationship between its cost and the social benefits it brings.
Athletic activity offers us known health and recreational benefits, and perhaps a bit of healthy competitiveness that leads to personal improvement. Given that the majority in Cuba are sports aficionados, it is probable most Cubans would agree to keep financing a number of popular sports such as baseball, soccer, boxing and others. Cheap and simple sports could also be defended decorously. Beyond that, we should also consider the severe situation we face. Cutbacks in all spheres – including health, education and social security – are underway. The government calls these “rationalization” or “restructuring” efforts.
Let us recall that the lack of recreational options, particularly in rural communities, is a recurrent complaint among us. Between apathy and alcoholism, the daily life of many finds no alternatives because of a lack of resources (or so the government claims). Thus, to seek to maintain the status of champion at all costs and try to secure medals even in bizarre and extravagant disciplines, so as to keep one’s place at the podium, is not only impossible and unnecessary, it is immoral.
For instance, I am sincerely happy for Cuba’s Taekwondo champion. However, the electronic bodices used in the high-level competition cost the kind of money the government claims it doesn’t have to finance gymnasiums for the sport at the neighborhood level.
Hockey, handball and other team sports that are quite irrelevant in the local imaginary involve investments in training at international centers, trips, expenses and more.
All the while, local baseball fields remain overgrown with weeds. Worse still, only children from well-off families, whose parents purchase the extremely expensive gloves, bats, balls and uniforms can practice the sport owing to the lack of sport implements.
One could point to other equally or more serious examples. Cuba’s cycling team, as way of an inexact example, races with some ten fancy bicycles that cost over 10 thousand dollars each.
One need to have special contempt for one’s people not to sacrifice the discipline and purchase one thousand seven hundred bicycles for children that, in markets such as China would cost more or less the same. They could then be sold at cost, far beneath the store price. This would bring joy to many children who cannot even dream of getting one this Christmas season or any other year.
These basic observations have been made by many people on many occasions. Cuba’s authoritarian system turns a blind eye on them, for it has no need to address popular demands. That said, to continue to condemn this wasteful and undemocratic practice will help erode this type of behavior and eventually force those above to adopt principles of reason and justice that are more suited to our nation.