Sport in Cuba
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Due to historical associations with the United States, many Cubans participate in a lot sports which are popular in North America, rather than sports traditionally promoted in other Latin American nations. Baseball is by far the most popular; other popular sports and pastimes include boxing (Cuba is a dominant force in Olympic boxing, consistently achieving high medal tallies in international competitions), volleyball, wrestling, basketball, sailing and trekking.
Cuba's Sport History
Post Revolutionary Cuba prides itself on its success in sports. Fidel Castro expressed that sports should be “the right of the people,” not the right of the wealthy. He compared Pre-Revolutionary and Post-Revolutionary Cuba by explaining that while before only the wealthy could enjoy sports, now everyone can enjoy sports. He also explains that talent in sport comes from hard work, and a strong will. These are not traits the naturally wealthy have; rather these are traits that working-class people have. In modern Cuban society, sport and physical education begin when a child is only 45 days old. The mothers are taught to exercise their children's limbs and massage their muscles to keep them healthy. Children are taught at a later age to play games that resemble physical exercise. These ideas were the basis for the modern sports program in Cuba, and clearly it is working. Considering that Cuba's population is only around 11.49 million, Cuba has a demanding 0.96 to 0.05 lead against China (1.379 billion) in the number of 2016 Olympic medals won per million occupants.
In 1961, two years after the triumph of the Revolution, The National Institute of Sport, Physical Education, and Recreation (INDER) was created. This was the governing branch of all sport and recreation in Cuba. It developed all of the current sports and education programs in place today, including the EIDE, which is the program that finds the naturally talented young adults and gets them into sports oriented secondary schools. All first and secondary schools in Cuba teach sport and physical education as a compulsory subject. There are five sports taught in all standard secondary schools: track and field, basketball, baseball, gymnastics, and volleyball. The students who excel at a certain sport usually find themselves competing in the Cuban summer Junior Olympics which is where the EIDE sees their talent and recruits them to a specialized school that caters to just their sport.
Most of these specialized schools are located on the Isle of Youth. This is a 2,200 square kilometer island to the south of Cuba which has more than 27 of these schools, each having about 600 children who attend. The majority of them are semi-boarding schools where the students get on a boat to the island every Sunday evening and return every Friday evening. The schools are spread out across the island and have citrus groves in between them. Being consistent with the ideals of the Revolution, all of the students are required to put in 3 hours of work a day picking or canning fruit.
Every school in Cuba participates in the Junior Olympic Program established in 1963. However many of the standard secondary schools only compete in the sports for which they have teams, for instance most of them do not have pools. The competition usually commences in July. The games have a traditional ladder system where first local schools compete, then the district winners will compete and finally the regional winners will compete. However, for team sports, the winning teams will move on, but the best players from all of the losing teams will form a new team and also move on. This way no single great player will be tossed out because of a bad team. As of 1978 the Cuban Junior Olympics involved 20 sports: Chess, Weightlifting, Athletics, Tennis, Football, Table Tennis, Basketball, Modern Gymnastics, Gymnastics, Synchronized Swimming, Swimming, Diving, Volleyball, Water Polo, Cycling, Fencing, Judo, Roller derby, Roller hockey, Pistol Shooting, Baseball and Wrestling.
INDER has many programs, including the National Institute for Sports Medicine, the National Coaches program, and the National Physical Education Institute. All of these were developed during the relatively strong economic period of 1960–1990. The Special Period of the 1990s–2000s created many special challenges for INDER, including budget cutbacks and a limited amount of electricity causing blackouts. In the early 1990s, many of the night sporting events were canceled to preserve electricity.
Cuba's new sports program also began to pay for itself when many of the best players were allowed to retire early and take up position on teams in other countries. These other countries wanted to hire them because of Cuba's fantastic success in training winning athletes. These players would earn a large salary, and about 80% of it would go directly to the Cuban government. The players would then pocket the other 20%, which was more than what the average Cuban in Cuba was earning. It is worthy to note that Castro abolished professional sport in Cuba in the beginning of the Revolution. What this meant was that all leagues and teams are considered amateur. This concept was imbedded in the stated ideals of the revolution, that everyone should be equal. However this outflow of the best athletes and trainers began to take its toll. In 1997 Cuba ended its 10-year, 152-game, winning-streak at the baseball International Cup by losing to Japan 11 to 2. To fix this problem, Cuba began to offer material incentives like houses and cars to the good players to keep them from playing for other countries. These offerings weren't to completely prevent talented Cuban's from leaving the country instead they were there to keep the system balanced. By the year 2007 there were 50 nations around the world who employed several hundred Cuban sports trainers and coaches.
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Baseball is the most popular sport in Cuba and 62% play it. Baseball is the official sport of Cuba.
Basketball is one of the top sports in Cuba. Yet, it is not as popular as baseball and boxing. The Cuban national basketball team was particularly successful at the 1972 Summer Olympics when it won the bronze medal after defeating Italy in its last match.
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Aside from the traditional cockfighting and other gambling sports, along with baseball, boxing was one of the most popular sports in pre-Revolutionary sports Cuba.
It is still very popular on the island today. By 1992, there were over 16,000 boxers on the island. Across Cuba today there are 494 boxing coaches and 185 facilities. Of the 99,000 athletes in Cuba currently, 19,000 are boxers, including 81 of Olympic competence, even though only 12 make the Olympic team.
Football is not as popular as baseball or boxing, but the Cuban National team took part in the 1938 World Cup and reached the quarter-final.
Cricket is a relatively small, but growing, sport in Cuba. Ex-President Fidel Castro believed that young people on the island were becoming too Americanized and wanted Cuba to feel more affinity with the Caribbean. UK Sport, the body responsible for promoting and supporting sport across Britain, answered a request from Cuba's sports chiefs and provided money for a fact-finding mission which it is hoped will lead to a four-year plan to develop Cuban cricket
Cuba had by far the strongest Greco-Roman wrestling team in the Western hemisphere and one of the strongest teams in the world. The team captured team championship title numerous times at the Pan American Wrestling Championships, Pan American Games, Central American and Caribbean Games. Cuban freestyle wrestling team in its achievements is second only to the United States national team in the Americas.
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