Osmel Ramirez Alvarez
HAVANA TIMES — From the very beginning, sports have been a fundamental building block in the Revolution’s politics. We can say that it’s an inseparable part of the Revolution and that it is definitely politicized. Fidel personally contributed his ideas on how to develop what he himself called “revolutionary sports”; overseeing its progress until it worked and then sharing its achievements. It has been a priority sector, put on display in the system’s social victories’ showcase.
I believe that sport played at the highest competitive level is a luxury, not a necessity; the manifestation of social development being held up by real economic pillars. For physical health or quality of life purposes, local league tournaments, aerobic exercises set to music or gym exercise is enough. Achieving excellence and playing competitively is a whole ‘other thing’, it entails a huge expense which can be paid for if society is in a position to do so.
Cuba has never had real or enough economic resources to support the level of sport that this “political irresponsibility” has promoted. First of all, it has involved too much of a social cost for an economy which has been badly damaged and is incompetent. However, the eagerness to show off our well-being in statistics which promotes a successful image abroad has prevailed over financial common sense which dominates the global sporting scene.
And it’s not only sports that appear in this deceitful, illusionary Revolutionary showcase. Along with Olympic, world and Panamerican medals, there are the thousands of calories that we Cubans consume per capita, which is higher than the limits drawn out by the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO); the number of doctors to inhabitant ratio, even though over a third of our doctors work abroad; infant mortality rates; the tiny percentage of illiterate people; the number of teachers and schools to people ratio; the percentage of own homes; and other things.
If we coldly read these statistics without really knowing what Cuba is like from the inside, it can be deduced that we Cubans are better than OK and that if we have these results in expensive and difficult areas, then we have everything basic covered, which would logically be easier. This is precisely the illusion, this conditioned reflection, that this government wanted to create. And competitive sports are the spearhead of this great manipulative strategy.
Fidel began with large economic projects which failed time and time again. Consequently, his social projects no longer had any support; however, giving them up wasn’t an option and he stuck by them at the expensive of the most ludicrous poverty that’s ever been seen. During the ‘90s, our economy didn’t grow, nor were we able to establish a sound economy. However, we were able to reduce our child mortality rate below that of the US, the number of students per classroom was reduced, splitting classes into two, and in sports, we were among the top 10 countries in the world. Just imagine, we were standing side by side with the richest nations in the world. It wasn’t very good for the economy, but it worked wonders for their political agenda.
The last thing the “undefeated comandante” did was get the country into over 10 billion USDs worth of debt and invest it all into sterile social projects, which haven’t even been maintained; nothing led to anything productive which would create riches and allow us to pay our creditors back. All of this was happening while the he went on the air from the Havana Convention Center and tried the famous chocolate drink we were going to enjoy. That’s why Raul inherited the leadership of a Cuba which appeared on the blacklist of unreliable countries to give credit to.
With such a legacy in his hands, it makes sense that the new leader didn’t really want to go down the same political route as his brother. The first thing he did was push all these unsustainable projects to the background and cut expenditures. Sports have also been affected by these cuts. Furthermore, it was easier to convince sportspeople who gave their all with “praise” and “diplomas” when Fidel was in power. Now, with the government opening up the Cuban economy and new State prices, people want cash in hand. This has gone hand-in-hand with the increase in desertion of athletes and the obligation of paying those under contract with the Cuban government a higher percentage than before of what they earn abroad.
On the other hand, the COI’s plan to raise our national competitive level and that only the best take part in each sport, has allowed professional sportspeople to enter the game. Cuba was put up against amateur athletes in the past when our players really were and are professionals, they just aren’t paid the same. By raising the bar, our results have fallen logically.
All of these factors have led to Cuba standing in 18th place in the medal standings at the Rio De Janeiro Olympics, which is still too much of a privileged spot given the critical economic situation our country is currently facing.
Of course it fills us with joy when our fellow countrymen win and we would like them to win more medals, like they used to. We have a great foundation which the Revolution has created which no matter what the cost, has brought about great achievements and can continue to do so. However, it would make sense if this was the manifestation of our society’s real development, which doesn’t represent luxury among so much poverty, a way of simulating a level of social development that we don’t really have.
Appearing on the medals chart surrounded by the world’s superpowers and even above some first-world countries doesn’t resolve our most urgent needs; rather, it’s a way of disguising them, drugging us with vanity and pride. Nevertheless, we receive our athletes’ five gold medals and 11 medals in total, with great joy. Congratulations to those given a medal and to the Cuban people who deserve a moment of glory.
However, I dream of the day when these achievements double in number without being part of some political agenda or implying excessive expenses. I dream of a prosperous and completely free Cuba, without “political desertors in sport”, without this label of “traitors to the Patria.” I dream of a Cuba that makes the most of its strengths which shows off an even better result, but this has to be coherent with our real social reality. This is what I dream for.