14ymedio, Havana, 28 November 2023 — Basketball is one of the sports most affected by the unstoppable migratory exodus on the Island. This is stated by Yunier Valdivia Rodríguez, deputy provincial director of sports activities in Ciego de Ávila. “There are fewer students, as they resign for reasons related to the end of a scholarship or a change of decision about their future,” he told the official newspaper Invasor.
Despite the fact that basketball is one of the sports with the highest number of followers and practitioners in that province, the official says that last year, between schoolchildren and youth in the School of Sports Initiation (Eide), there were barely 54 players. At the beginning of 2023 there were 41, and in the entire course there were no more than 50.
With 47 players between schoolchildren and youth of both sexes, coach José Echarte Vázquez accepts how complicated it is to set up tournaments in Ciego de Ávila. The squads are at the limit, because at least each team must have 10 players to have substitutes for each of the five athletes on the court. The panorama looks very different from the 90s, when he played with Georffrei Silvestre and Yoan Luis Haití. “When we were 13-15 years old, we had 17 or 18” members.
The Cuban basketball foundation is crumbling. Valdivia Rodríguez recognizes that the crisis has spread to the lack of teachers. Of the eight that the Eide had to count on, there are currently six, one of them “hired by the hour.” The casualties, he points out, “migrated” or “sought a source of employment that pays more.”
Moisés Bravo Torres, a well-known headhunter and teacher, says he is tied to the Eide because basketball is his life, “not because it allows me to fulfill the demands in my house.” He admits that coaches have been “forced to change activities” to generate twice as much income. “My salary does not exceed 5,500 pesos with all the years I have of experience, and that is not enough in these times.”
The boys that Bravo Torres is recruiting train in the Auditorium, a place that reflects the shortcomings of Cuban basketball: the court is made of cement, where injuries are more frequent; there is only one hoop to score, and the bathrooms are in poor condition. In addition, the eight balls given to them by the Eide at the beginning of the year have already deteriorated.
To this must be added that “we are at an international disadvantage because, along with the crisis, there is no practice at these ages,” Bravo says.
For his part, Echarte considers that “the main problem is that you don’t compete. It is very difficult to set up a match with the neighboring provinces. Here you train more than you play, contrary to the rest of the world. We wait eleven months for the national, and sometimes it’s ’we’ll see’.”
The declared Most Valuable Player of the last Superior Basketball League, Joan Carlos Gutiérrez, told Play-Off Magazine, that the lack of “a good court, better training equipment and the lack of international experience” are the impediments faced by players.
Gutiérrez indicated that he has to resort to the black market to get sneakers “because there is no place to buy them on the Island,” and the same “happens with the knee pads and the sweatshirts.” In order to develop, the support of the family is essential. In his case, it’s his mother and sister who have covered these expenses.
The lack of footwear and socks is experienced from the early stages. According to Valdivia, footwear is obtained in the informal market for no less than 60 dollars, and players use it only for competitions, with the risk of being injured during training with inappropriate shoes.
Joan Carlos Gutiérrez says that “basketball is a sport that is currently undervalued in Cuba, and the solution is not in the hands of the athletes.” Gutiérrez considers it essential to “improve training conditions, promote more international experience and motivate the players and new generations.”
The budget of 70 million pesos that the Eide received this year was “insufficient” to carry out significant work in a training center with more than 700 students. The court is destroyed and needs to be replaced, which has led to training in the Giraldo Córdova Cardín multipurpose room and on cement courts.
The shortcomings in basketball are not new. Invasor revealed in a 2005 report on the Eide the terrible conditions of the dormitories, the sports areas and even the food. The precarious condition of the bathrooms forced more than 300 students this year to live overcrowded in another building with the rest of the athletes and prevents the school from increasing its staff. An investment plan for improvements is planned for 2024, but this, for the moment, is only a wish.
Translated by Regina Anavy
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