XVIII Pan Am Games: A world away

By TONY SEED

Do you remember the Pan-American Games in 2015 in Toronto? It was a festival of sport and friendship of more than 6,000 young athletes from the Americas with venues throughout Southern Ontario. To raise the army of volunteers needed for various tasks, more than 60,000 people came forward to be selected, and of these only a third were chosen. Canada organized a delegation of its top athletes, who finished second in the medal standing. The Rogers Centre was packed for the closing ceremonies. The hosts built more than ten new facilities and 15 others were remodelled, to inspire the crowds that filled them. The privately-owned Hamilton Tiger Cats even finally walked away with a new stadium paid for by public tax dollars and renamed after some coffee chain owned in Brazil.

Athletes from participating countries and volunteers fill the field at the closing ceremonies of the Pan Am Games in Toronto, July 26, 2015 | I. Rupus

Opening ceremony of the 2019 Pan-American Games in Lima, Peru

Four years later, the 2019 Pan American Games opened on Friday, July 26 in Lima, Peru and run until Sunday, August 11. Yet it is impossible to find a feature article about this edition of the Games. Not a single newspaper or sports cable TV network in Canada sent a reporter to Peru. The monopoly media is relying on a Canadian Press reporter for wire service reports, summaries and scorecards of the 2019 Pan Am Games. The CP formula features a few paragraphs on a medal-winning athlete and a daily round-up briefly profiling Canadian athletes to the exclusion of all other athletes and teams, including the progress of the host country. The reports one-sidedly emphasize the country’s medal count according to the Own the Podium paradigm. For its part, CBC, a rights holder, is streaming live broadcasts of selected events (see here). The continental competition of the Americas is a mere blip for the privately-owned media, which seems to dismiss such a tournament as being less than “world class.”

The Pan-American Games of Lima represent a high level scenario of competition where multiple Olympic and World champions including world class Canadian athletes are attending, since 19 of the 39 registered sports will confer direct places for the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games. Lima is hosting 39 sports and 62 disciplines, with a total of 424 events, far more than on the summer Olympic program. Some 6900 athletes represent the 41 competing countries from North America, South America, Central America and the Caribbean. In addition to all the core Olympic sports, there are some sports which are included at the Pan Am Games but not the Olympic Games, such as bowling, racquetball, squash and water skiing. Lima itself is the capital of and most populous city in Peru and many of the events are sold out.

In what seems to be peculiar scheduling conflicts, the Canadian national track and field championships were underway in Montreal as the games opened, as were the world swimming games in Gwangju, South Korea. Thus, many of Canada’s top athletes are not on the roster in Lima, as well as young and upcoming talented figures. Canada sent essentially what is described by some as its “B Team.” Nor were there any ceremonies with the prime minister to officially send off the country’s delegation that we are aware of, although Justin Trudeau had turned up on the podium of the victory parade of the Toronto Raptors, who declared themselves “world champions” after beating a team from California.

Priorities

But where are the reporters deployed? Neither Lima, Montreal or Gwangju.

The Globe and Mail sent its senior columnist Cathal Kelly to cover some tennis tournament in London and a golf tournament in Northern Ireland (devoting six articles to each). The Toronto Star reports that there was “a small handful of local Toronto reporters” for a baseball game at Kauffman Stadium in Kansas City on July 29. The record of the Toronto Blue Jays is 41-67 and it sits 27.5 games out of first place at the time of writing. Toronto has the biggest attendance decline in U.S. Major League Baseball; it has decreased by nearly 50 per cent from 41,878 in 2016, when it was a contender, to some 21,000 this year. Yet Gregor Chisholm of the Star, who refers to the “disillusioned fan base,” gives the reason for the presence of the reporters being “the Jays finally have a group that people should be able to watch grow together.” That’s the new fantasyland narrative of “rebuild” for the Rogers’ telecom monopoly and the sports media is trying to spin doctor things accordingly.

The monopoly sports media are clear in their priorities. For example, the Toronto Star Sports section on July 30 printed one CP article on the Pan Am Games on an inside page, together with the short CP daily round-up briefly profiling Canadian athletes.

In contrast, it printed four pages of articles about the mistake by the lake and their performance at the MLB trade deadline: the complete lead page, 2/3rds of Page S3, and all of S4 and S5. A total of four writers laboured on this drivel. The underlying concepts promoted are (1) annexation, as if Canadian baseball is synonymous with the Toronto Blue Jays; (2) capital-centric: baseball players are referred to as “pieces” and “assets” who are “under control” (or not), referring to their contract status; and (3) a “debate” over the competence of this franchise’s American “management” and the respective values of the players being exchanged staged throughout the media to engage and divert the public. The aim of ownership let alone “major league” sport is not up for debate.

Take another example. The Toronto Sun, known for its fat sports section, did not print a single article on either July 31 and August 1st on the Pan Am Games. The preseason of the US National Football League takes pride of place, spread across four pages to familiarize readers with all the prospects and trivia for the coming season.

In the clearest statement of the commodification of sport, The Globe and Mail now publishes its sports section as part of its Report on Business. [3]

Four hundred and seventy seven Canadian athletes are participating in the 2019 Games (280 women, 197 men) together with scores of officials, judges, trainers and staff, and families. Some may win medals, others not. All give their best effort. That is their priority. Many had to overcome difficult obstacles and pressures to finance their training and participation in sport as a consequence of the neo-liberal stand of the federal government towards Canadian sport, which is quite worrisome. No matter the cost, the athletes proudly represent their country.

The Canadian delegation include members of the national men’s baseball team, gold medalists in 2015 and 2012, which has reached the Super Round in the 2019 Games at the time of writing. Nevertheless, it rated only a few short paragraphs. In contrast, the featured Blue Jays include but one Canadian on its current roster. [1] Marketed by Rogers Media, a gigantic monopoly [2], as “Canada’s team” (when it wins), the Blue Jays have fielded a grand total of 49 Canadians in 42 years of operation since 1977. Canadian baseball is not synonymous with the Blue Jays just as Canadian basketball is not synonymous with the Toronto Raptors. The monopoly media rarely if ever reports on the Inter-County Baseball League in Ontario or the Can-Am League in Ontario, Quebec and the United States.

A chauvinist narrative of superiority

The marginalization by the media of the Pan-American Games contrasts with the torrent of articles this year promoting regime change in Venezuela, Cuba and Central America, and disinformation about Canada’s “humanitarian” role – openly conspiring with the U.S. to destabilize and overthrow governments targeted for regime change and, in the case of Venezuela, mete out collective punishment to its population in the form of economic sanctions. It feeds a chauvinist narrative of superiority of Canada and the United States, of American exceptionalism, that the countries and nations of Latin America and the Caribbean are unable to live in peace, harmony and progress independent of imperialist rule and tutelage.

This cannot be said openly. Instead the notion of “world class sports” is brought forward. Just what is this “world’?

“I am for world class sports,” declares the racists of the Anglo-American world as justification, “but precisely my sports are world class.” “I am for sports without boundaries,” declares the giant U.S. sports cartels and the media in their service promoting the globalization of sport, “but precisely the sports of my nation are those of the world nation.” They see in Latin America, the Caribbean and Canada only the rich mine of young natural athletic talent to be stripped and exploited by the U.S. major leagues as chattel labour in a form of human trafficking. This is pronounced in terms of baseball, as evidenced by the fact that more than 50 per cent of all professional players in the U.S. are Latino in origin. The Toronto Blue Jays was originally built around outstanding Dominican players, as is the current edition which also includes a Cuban “defector.” [4]

Build people-to-people friendship

The Americas do not begin and end at the wall built by Obama and Trump on the Rio Grande. The Pan Am Games as a tournament of the Americas has at its heart friendship, peace, harmony, and equality amongst peoples and nations personified by sport. In addition, this reflects many positive initiatives to build people-to-people friendship but little reported by the media.

In June, for example, the Cuban National Baseball Team visited Ottawa to play three games against the Ottawa Champions of the Can-Am League as part of a series with its member clubs. Louis Lang of Ottawa Cuba Connections reports that “more than four thousand people watched the Sunday doubleheader (pictured) and enjoyed the high level of international competition and friendly exchange between the two teams. This should become a regular event in both Cuba and Canada to increase the friendship between our two peoples.” In the Maritimes, a volunteer group has since 2014 organized a popular program of annual exchanges of youth teams to play baseball in both Cuba and Canada. As part of the trip, the youth bring down baseball gear and school supplies to give to their Cuban counterparts.

We salute the Canadian and all athletes competing in the 2019 Pan-American Games. Their participation shows that the Canadian people want a healthy and active sport and reject being comatose and passive spectators of U.S. professional sport. The capital-centric concept of sports as a market commodity, a source of personal wealth and privilege, and a proclamation of international superiority in which people have no say is in disrepute and must be rejected. The direction of sport must change. The concept of human-centred sports as the people’s right, as a source of health and well-being for all, makes up an integral part of a modern Canada that defends the well-being and rights of all.

Another world is possible!

Endnotes

1. It is little discussed that the U.S. Major League Baseball (MLB) sports cartel, which includes the Toronto Blue Jays, forbids all Canadian professionals above the level of Triple A teams to participate on the national team competing in the Pan Am Games and the former World Baseball Cup (2006-13), as it does the nationals of all countries, above all Cuba. This contrasts with the major soccer leagues, which stop play to allow international competitions. In this way, U.S. baseball actually dictates the composition of national teams. From the Blue Jays’ current roster, four of its top offensive players would be eligible for Pan Am national teams: Vladimir Guerrero Junior, and Teoscar Hernández (Dominican Republic), Lourdes Gurriel Junior (Cuba) and Bo Bichette (Brazil). The sole international competition that MLB permits players under its contracts to participate in is the World Baseball Classic, which is owned lock, stock and barrel by the MLB and the MLB Player’s association. It was inaugurated when baseball was thrown out of the Olympics in 2005 due to the failure of MLB to adopt modern drug testing protocols and permit its best players to participate.

2. The life and death of the entire sector of sport – just as with steel, auto, energy and even agricultural sectors – rests in the hands of finance capital and giant monopolies such as Rogers far removed from the local people and their control, demands and needs. In Toronto, the control over commercial sport is consolidated within the hands of a very small group, which can be narrowed to two key organizations (Rogers and MLSE) that have significant ties to the city’s and the country’s corporate, economic, and political ruling elite. Rogers Media is a division of Rogers Communications. It owns the Blue Jays, the Citytv network, more than 50 radio stations, the Sportsnet TV channels, NHL TV rights and co-owns Maple Leaf Sports & Entertainment and its ramified network with Bell Media. MLSE principals also vainly tried to being a NFL franchise to Toronto, which analysts say would have crippled the Canadian Football League. Rogers Media brought in more than $2-billion of the oligopoly’s $15-billion revenue in 2018. The Toronto Blue Jays have the largest geographical home market and blackout area for television in all of US baseball, encompassing all of Canada. Under MLB criteria, all of Canada is protected Blue Jays territory, and on that basis Toronto arguably plays in the largest market by population and territory.

Rogers Centre, the Blue Jays’s state-of-the-art stadium originally called the SkyDome, was built by the Ontario government and ultimately acquired by Rogers in 2004 for $30 million, a whopping 95 per cent discount off the SkyDome’s initial $600 million price tag in 1989 – part of a multi-billion dollar stream of revenue being diverted from the public treasury to the vaults of the international financial oligarchy.

3. Howard Webster, former owner of the Toronto Globe and Mail, owned 10 per cent of the Toronto Blue Jays as did the Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce when MLB expanded into Canada. The current owners, the Thompson family, own a minority interest in the Winnipeg Jets of the NHL.

4. The participation of Latino players in the major leagues has exploded over the past 20 years, the majority from the Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico, Venezuela and Cuba. For example, while in 1987 there were approximately fifty Dominicans playing in the U.S. professional leagues, 1,443 Dominican players were signed to professional contracts by 2004, despite having a population about 33 times smaller than the U.S.  Together the 30 MLB teams employ more than 6,000 players at all levels of the sport.

The Dominican Republic has produced 755 players in MLB since the start of the modern era in 1901, the most of any country outside the U.S. Venezuela is a distant second at 405, while Canada sits third at 254.  Since 2010, at no time did the percentage of Latino players fall below 27 per cent of baseball rosters. Since then, that percentage has even increased, with Latinos currently making up nearly 32 per cent of the league’s players – an all-time high. In general, the number of foreign-born players reached a record number of 254 in 2018. The number of Canadians has decreased from 20 to six.

While there is a broad literature on baseball as an instrument of neo-colonialism of the Americas, the neo-colonial role of Toronto Blue Jays is little discussed. The system of scouting and recruiting Dominican players for American teams was first formalized by the Toronto Blue Jays and Los Angeles Dodgers through scouts Epy Guerrero and Ralph Avila. The first academy to be supported by an American team to prepare young hopefuls for the “big time” in the “promised land” was that of the Blue Jays in Villa Mella. No such academy was ever developed in Canada. Overall, as of 1999 a third of the 200 ballplayers in the Toronto organization came from the Dominican Republic or elsewhere in the Caribbean basin. During the 2014 season, the Blue Jays set a record by fielding a starting lineup with six Dominican players such as Jose Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion.

The destruction of the Dominican national baseball leagues, the decline in its baseball and its affect on the national style of play of the Dominicans – flair, grace, speed, and hustle over power – is documented by Alan M. Klein in Sugarball: The American Game: The Dominican Dream (Yale University Press, New Haven, 1991), the foremost work on the subject. According to Juan Marichal, the only Dominican selected to the Hall of Fame and director for the Oakland Athletics in the Dominican Republic in the early 1980s, many of his recruits had “no business playing professional baseball. The purpose they served was to fill out minor league rosters and thereby help train other, more talented players.”

In terms of Cuba, the aim has been the subversion and wrecking of its national baseball. To further put the role of MLB into perspective, there is uncontested evidence that the Dodgers, in 1996 and 1997 under the actions of their head Dominican Scout, Pablo Peguero, violated the U.S. Embargo against Cuba by holding secret try-outs for two Cuban players and arranging for their defection. By 2014 there were 60 departures from Cuba, while 2015 brought a not exactly sports record with more than a hundred “escapees”, about 70 of whom were under 25 years. In February 2016 the Houston Astros and Blue Jays benefitted from the desertion of brothers Yulieski and Lourdes Gurriel Junior (now playing left field for Toronto) from the Cuban National team during the Caribbean Baseball Series in the Dominican Republic; their role in organizing the grotesque desertion of the two brothers (at 2.a.m. in the morning, dressed in Dominican army uniforms) is murky. It came precisely right at the moment Cuban and the United States baseball authorities at the highest level were working on an arrangement to allow Cuban players sign with MLB teams without violating the laws that currently impede the U.S. trade embargo toward Cuba, since rejected by the Trump administration. An article on this website entitled, “Why Do We Not Play in the Major Leagues?” by Roberto Ramírez, outlines how Cuba is targeted by U.S. sporting clubs that hope to traffic its athletes and make money off of them in the professional leagues. The U.S. does not permit normal relations between the two countries because its aim is to undermine Cuba’s right to decide its own economic and political affairs and the nature of its social system. See also “Talent theft: Effects of US blockade of Cuba evident in field of sport,” also on this website.

 

4 Comments

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4 responses to “XVIII Pan Am Games: A world away

  1. LM

    Very interesting article Tony

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Pingback: A fist raised and a knee taken: US gold medalists Gwen Berry and Race Imboden protest racism, social injustice | Friendship First, Competition Second – An Amateur Sport Website

  3. Pingback: A gold medal for peace | Friendship First, Competition Second – An Amateur Sport Website

  4. Pingback: A fist raised and a knee taken: US gold medalists protest racism, social injustice | Tony Seed's Weblog

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