Sport, money and politics


Sport these days is both high profile and high profit. Developed capitalist countries spend large amounts of money on developing selected athletes and teams as winners. Much less effort is put into making participation in sport part of the everyday life of ordinary people.

To add to their pool of top quality sportspeople, both as competitors and trainers, the wealthier capitalist countries have used their wealth to pillage the sporting talent of poorer countries, especially Third World and Eastern European countries.

This has the double advantage of simultaneously weakening the competition while building up the dominance of “the West.” Where the Third World country is also socialist, like Cuba, then this program is pursued with redoubled vigour.

Ever since the 1952 Olympics, where the Soviet Union participated for the first time, large amounts of money have been spent by the West to disrupt and destabilise sporting teams from socialist countries.

Everything from bribes and lucrative job offers to sex and threats have been used to persuade socialist-country sports people to “defect.”

Since the overthrow of socialism in the USSR and Eastern Europe, the resultant economic chaos has made it easy for the richer capitalist countries to enhance their own sporting strength by adding impoverished coaches and athletes from these countries.

Australia, Canada, France, Germany and of course the USA, have gleefully participated in this talent theft, not only from former and present socialist countries but from poor countries in general.

Most recently, the politically inspired talent scouts for Western “sport” have been active at the Pan American Games in Winnipeg.

They have been backed up by a sensation-seeking media more interested in encouraging desertions from the Cuban team than in reporting its considerable sports victories.

While national Canadian papers devoted space to openly speculating on which Cuban athletes might possibly desert — and detailing asylum mechanisms, to encourage them — the five gold medals won by Cuba’s Erick Lspez didn’t even rate a mention.

One newspaper actually had a competition — with the first prize a trip to Cuba! — to guess the correct number of deserters from the Cuban delegation. Presumably the prize was meant to be a gag.

Josi Ramsn Fernandez, President of the Cuban Olympic Committee

At the best attended press conference to that date at the Winnipeg Games, the President of the Cuban Olympic Committee, Josi Ramsn Fernandez, denounced the atmosphere in which the Cuban athletes were obliged to perform.

From the moment they arrived, they were exposed to telephone calls and written or verbal messages inciting them to desert.

The perimeter of the Athletes’ Village was “besieged” at night by talent scouts (fulfilling the role of provocateurs) with offers — sometimes in writing — for Cuban athletes to “turn professional” or otherwise accept a position outside Cuba.

These talent scouts were particularly active around the baseball stadium, where Cuba’s team stood out in what is the country’s national sport.

Here, profit and political motives merged: North American privately-owned professional baseball teams would pay real money to secure some of the Cuban ball players.

Special attention was consequently focussed on the baseball stadium. Counter-revolutionary “exiles” tried to disrupt Cuba’s game against Canada with a noisy demonstration; one of them gained the field with a placard, but the Cuban team rallied against the obvious provocation and decisively outperformed the Canadians.

Experience from previous Olympic and world championship games shows that Western intelligence services don’t leave these things to chance, utilising the services of emigre groups and even planting agents amongst the “hostesses” in the athletes’ village, with instructions to “befriend” athletes from socialist countries and persuade them to “choose freedom.”

No doubt there is a financial benefit as well.

Fernandez stated that at Winnipeg, “the profit motive concerning athletes is being combined with the political intentions of the Miami mafia. This is a sporting event, not a political one”, he said. “We are appealing to common sense and fair play.”

Cuba is a small, poor country. Nevertheless, it has sent hundreds of Cuban sports coaches to train athletes in Latin American and other Third World countries.

This has helped to develop the sporting prowess of those countries. Some of the Cuban coaches’ trainees have done so well they have snatched medals from Cuba itself. “We accept this as part of our sports philosophy”, says Fernandez.

Later in the Games, a massive media brouhaha broke out when Javier Sotomayor, the reigning world champion high jumper, tested positive for — of all unlikely things — cocaine. That Cuba’s national sports hero was apparently a cocaine user was of course music to the capitalist media’s ears.

The Cuban delegation vehemently denied the accusation, asserting that Sotomayor’s food or drink must have been deliberately spiked.

He has had eight dope tests this year alone and more than 60 over the course of his career and there has never been a hint of drug use.

He faces a two-year ban which would deny him the chance to defend his title at the upcoming world championships and the Sydney Olympics.

The capitalist media might pooh-pooh the idea of sabotage but I for one wouldn’t put it past them.

Source: The Guardian, August 18, 1999

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