Cuban Sport Fades Away / Ivan Garcia
Posted on September 23, 2013
The defection of Cuban athletes is no longer news. And gone are the
front-page headlines announcing epic victories and world championships.
The state coffers are empty. The sports schools no longer turn out
strings of champions like sausages. In the last Olympic Games in London
2012, we finished in 16th place.
Underline that result. It is likely that from now on the performance
will get worse. The problem is not that the population has become
sedentary or obese. Or that Cubans have given up their love of sports.
No. What has happened is a quiet revolution within the sports movement
in Cuba. Athletes have become tired of being handled like puppets for
the regime's propaganda.
They also want to earn lavish salaries like their peers in the world, to
be free to sign with any major team, and to manage their earnings
without state interference.
So they leave Cuba. And will continue leaving: baseball players, boxers,
volleyballers, track and field athletes, and competitors from other
The government of General Raúl Castro does not want to open the gate.
From now on, it is the State that designates who will compete in a
foreign league, and how much money they should be paid.
The olive green mandarins have again miscalculated. They are trying to
design a structure similar to that of Cuban contractors abroad — to
manage contracts and pocket the lion's share. Like doctors and civilian
advisers, athletes will be a commodity. A way to bring dollars into the
government's deflated accounts.
They have forgotten Fidel Castro's once fierce speech against
professionalism. Rent-an-athlete is now welcome, as long as the athlete
is as meek as a sheep.
But times are different. Olympic champion Dayron Robles has gotten tired
of being manipulated by remote control. Robles has charted a new course:
that of the independent athlete. He has the intransigent national sports
directors against the ropes.
Taking advantage of loopholes in the January 13 immigration reform,
Dayron intends to compete freely in the Diamond League, without having
to defect from his homeland or give up competing in future international
tournaments under the Cuban flag.
The Cuban authorities are unwilling to accept his decision or negotiate
a way out. Dayron Robles will mark a turning point in the Cuban sports
The authorities are at a crossroads. If they yield to him, they could
set a bad precedent, and in the short-term lose control of the salaries
of athletes allowed to compete in foreign leagues.
That's the key. The regime knows that it can bring in several hundred
million dollars annually by hiring out athletes. The ideal would be to
levy a reasonable tax on wages for athletes competing on foreign clubs.
And allow athletes to manage as they see fit the money they earn with
their sweat and talent.
It would be good for both sides. No one would be forced to leave Cuba.
But in an autocracy, reasonableness is a bad word. The government's
intransigent position led to this quagmire.
Due to wrong policies, about a thousand athletes have been forced to
defect. Athletes on the island are not unaware of the success of Yasser
Puig, Yoennis Céspedes and Osmany Juantorena, among many others.
They also want to compete with the best and earn wages commensurate with
their athletic caliber. In their country they earn the salaries of
laborers. Few can start a restaurant when they retire, like Mireya Luis,
Raúl Diago, or Javier Sotomayor.
They only have two choices: become coaches or political commissioners in
the style of the sinister Alberto Juantorena. The downward spiral of
Cuban sport is attributable to the stubbornness of the regime, which
seeks to control sports contracts from a desk and only with its consent.
Already in the last Olympics Cuba was not represented in team sports.
The performance of the men's volleyball team in the World League, with
one win and seven defeats, is the price paid for this intolerance.
Every year sports stars leave. The fans cheer. But there are other
avenues to explore. The country does not belong to the Castros. It is
everyone's. Each of us born on this island must reclaim what we consider
our inalienable rights.
It is a hard choice. The scribes of the official press defame those
athletes who freely decide to separate from the Cuban sports movement.
The IOC and the international federations can and should mediate the
Athletes like Robles are entitled not to be slaves. Congratulations to
Translated by Tomás A.
12 September 2013
Source: "Cuban Sport Fades Away / Ivan Garcia | Translating Cuba" -