Cuba may be a small country but it has made a massive impact on sports. Indeed, its performance in the Olympic Games has always been impressive for its size. The 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro witnessed another good medal haul from the Cuban team. The athletes brought home five golds, two silvers, and four bronzes. It’s not as many as in previous years but it’s still good enough to put the Caribbean powerhouse at No. 18 in the rankings. Much bigger countries can only dream of such a feat. This did not happen by luck. A comprehensive grassroots program has been in place for decades, allowing them to reap the benefits today.
The revolutionary government’s focus on the well-being of its citizens does not stop at providing medical care. It also pays a great deal of attention to their fitness starting from infancy. Mothers are encouraged to massage their children’s muscles 45 days after birth for improved health. Once they are ready, children learn to play games that double as their exercise. These activities build a good foundation for sports later in life. Physical education is taught in school at the primary and secondary levels. The best students usually go on to compete in Cuba’s Junior Olympics in the summer. The best athletic students move on to formalized training.
All of these sports programs are coordinated by INDER which is the National Institute of Sport, Physical Education, and Recreation. It developed the programs not only to promote fitness, but also to identify sports talent. The most promising young adults are recruited into sports-oriented secondary schools. There are currently 27 such schools each specializing in one particular sport. Most of them have been built on the Isle of Youth in the south of Cuba. Students go home on weekends and stay at school dorms the rest of the time. This system has produced many Olympians across multiple sports disciplines.
The sports which are popular in Cuba aren’t those which are usually associated with Latin American countries. For instance, football is not nearly as big here as it is in Brazil and Argentina. Instead, the most popular sport in Cuba is baseball. This is part of the American influence on the island before the revolution that has managed to survive to this day. The level of play here is high thanks to the programs and facilities dedicated to the sport.
In Santiago de Cuba, there is a National Training School for Baseball Coaches. The school is staffed by several professors who are respected experts in sports training. Their job is to develop baseball from the grassroots to the elite level. They also provide courses that enhance coaches’ team management skills and technical competency. There is also an International School of Physical Education which opened in September 2000. This facility trains international students with scholarships being given to indigenous youths.
Boxing is another highly regarded sport in this nation. Cuba produces some of the best amateurs in the world. Even before the Revolution, boxing captured the imagination of the Cubans. Young boys dreamed of glory inside the ring, punching their way to a better life. Nearly twenty thousand boxers train under 494 coaches in 185 facilities across the country. This provides a massive pool from which to get representatives for international competitions. With this system, it’s no surprise that Cuban boxers do well in the Olympics and world championships.
Both the students and the elite athletes need lots of gear, uniform and other equipment to play games. The Cuban sports industry provides these needs through the local BATOS brand. This sports equipment company manufactures head protectors, gloves, uniforms, footwear, lighting, and other electronics required in tournaments. Production slowed down and scaled back in the 1990s during the economic downturn but it has picked up again. BATOS has since signed joint venture agreements with foreign firms to improve and export its products and services. Demand has picked up and operations have expanded. A large portion of the goods are made for export. This allows the whole enterprise to sustain itself.
Sports equipment is not the only viable export of the Cuban sports industry. Thanks to their success, Cuban athletes and coaches are highly sought-after around the world. For instance, baseball players from the Cuban national team have been recruited in the Can-Am League. Other players head to Japan for the summer baseball games. Cuban coaches are asked to hold clinics or take over teams to benefit from their wealth of knowledge of individual sports. These high value labor exports earn salaries that are several times greater than what they get at home. About 80% goes back to the government while the remaining 20%, goes to the players’ take home salaries, considerably much higher than the average national wage.
More recent developments in the sports industry of Cuba include the signing of Hector Villar, one of Cuba’s best known and respected TV presenters and sportscasters in a 50/50 Joint Venture with the international sporting group Rushmans Cuba.
Cuba Deportes S.A. holds exclusive rights to market the country’s sports-related products and services. The company also organizes events, coordinates training camps, manages ticket sales, and handles training concerns across 40 sports disciplines. For more information about Cuba Deportes S.A. can be found on their website at www.cubadeportes.cu.