Joy and Hypertrophy / Yoani Sánchez

Image taken from

The Pan American Games in Guadalajara brought fresh winds to our television programming, which had been insufferably dominated by ideology since early October. Although our sportscasters continue to believe that every competition is a kind of battle where to lose is to surrender, we could ignore them and enjoy the show. It was even surprising that, notwithstanding the attempts of the official journalists to get the winners to dedicate their medals “to the commander in chief,” most preferred to offer them to their families, girlfriends, mothers, happily waiting for them somewhere in the national territory. The closing ceremony and the second place finish achieved by our delegation cheered those still disgusted by the defeat of the Cuban team in the Baseball World Championship. For a couple of weeks the sound of the hit balls echoed more loudly than the slogans, and certain everyday concerns faded into the background.

After the euphoria of victory, however, it’s worth analyzing if this second place finish really corresponds to our development as a country. Watching this little Island facing down an emerging power like Brazil, or a country as vast as Mexico, brings the same image to my mind over and over. In it, a frail and toothless gentleman is showing me his muscular arms a la Arnold Schwarzenegger. We live, undoubtedly, in a hypertrophy similar to that of this skinny-legged man with the bulging biceps, suffering an artificial enhancement of a sector that has nothing to do with the economy or productivity of the nation. Should we rejoice over the direct result of this disproportion? Or should we calmly meditate on why this government tends to climb to the highest seats in the international sports arena, at the cost of neglecting less visible, or measurable, areas of our reality.

It is enough to travel Havana in search of a pool where children can learn to swim, to ask oneself if the resources that should be reaching many are invested in a just a few. We live on an Island and yet, a good share of its inhabitants would drown if they fell in the water. To buy a bicycle in a hard currency store costs as much as a year’s salary, but the women’s cycling team won first, second and third place medals in Guadalajara. The deterioration of the capital’s major athletic center, Ciudad Deportiva, is an embarrassment, while gold hangs from the necks of dozens of Cuban athletes. My own son spent two semesters without a P.E. teacher, because few want to work for a salary that is barely symbolic. Sports require a physical infrastructure and not just in the specialized schools and academies, they demand investment in facilities for use by the public as well. Undertaking this could mean we earn fewer medals, but it would also eliminate the hypertrophied image that today marks our every victory in sports.

31 October 2011