Thursday October 23rd, 2014, 5:18 pm (EDT)

A gold medal for honor

If one were to statistically work out the number of facilities, sport fields and sophisticated pieces of equipment we just saw in the recently concluded Olympic Games, accessible to every one million of the world’s inhabitants; the number of swimming pools for diving and polo, artificial underfoot for track and field competitions or field hockey, basketball and volleyball courts, rapids for kayak races, cycle tracks for speed-bike races, firing ranges, and so on and so forth, one could conclude that they are beyond the reach of 80 percent of the countries that were represented in Beijing, which is equivalent to billions of people around the planet. China, an immense and millennia-old country with over 1,2 billion inhabitants, invested $40 billion in the construction of the Olympic facilities and it will still require time to satisfy the sporting needs of a society at the height of development.

If one calculates the total number of people living in India, Indonesia, Bangladesh, Pakistan, Vietnam, the Philippines and other countries, not to mention the world’s nearly 900 million Africans and more than 550 million Latin Americans, one will have an idea of the number of people around the world who have no access to these kinds of sport facilities.

It is in this light that we ought to analyze the news that surrounded the Olympic Games in Beijing.

The world enjoyed the Olympics because it was something it needed, because we wanted to see the smiles and emotions of the athletes who participated, particularly those who came in first place, whose perseverance and discipline were duly acknowledged.

Which one of them could be blamed for the colossal inequalities that exist in the world in which it is our lot to live? How can one forget, on the other hand, the hunger, malnutrition, lack of schools, teachers, hospitals, doctors, medications and basic means of sustenance that the world endures?

We are aware of what those who pillage and exploit the world we live in evidently want. Why did they unleash violence and make the risk of war more imminent, on the same day that the Olympic Games were inaugurated? That happened only 16 days ago.

Now, when the anesthesia has worn off, the world must again face its distressing and growing problems.

Some days ago, I wrote about Cuban sports. I had long been condemning the repulsive, mercenary-like maneuvers perpetrated against this revolutionary activity and writing in defense of the courage and honorable conduct of our athletes.

In the course of the competitions, I reflected on these matters. Perhaps I would not have decided to write something on the issue so soon if there had not been the incident involving the Cuban tae kwon do athlete, Angel Valodia Matos, Olympic champion in Sydney eight years ago. His mother died when he was competing there and winning a gold medal, 20,000 kilometers away from his country. Taken aback by a decision that struck him as utterly unfair, he protested and threw a kick in the direction of the referee. They had tried to buy off his trainer. He was already ill-disposed and angry. He couldn’t hold back his anger.

The athlete was used to bravely endure the lesions that frequently arise in a tae kwon do match. The referee suspended him during the match when he was winning 3-2. It wasn’t the only incident. In these types of matches, the referee has all the power and the athlete has none. The two Cubans, the tae kwon do athlete and trainer, were barred for life from participating in international competitions.

I saw when the referees shamelessly robbed two Cuban boxers of their victory during the semifinals. Our boxers put up a dignified and courageous fight, they were constantly on the offensive. They had their hopes set on winning, in spite of the referees. But to no avail: their fate had been sealed beforehand. I didn’t see Correa’s fight, where he was also robbed of his victory.

I feel no duty to remain silent about the deeds of this mafia. The latter has managed to make a mockery of the Olympic Committee rules. What they did to the young members of our boxing team, to complete the work of those who make a living out of stealing Third World athletes, was criminal. In their malice, they denied Cuba even one Olympic gold medal in this discipline.

Cuba has never bought an athlete or referee. There are sports in which referees are very corrupt and our athletes have to fight both the adversary and the referee. Cuban boxers, whose prestige is internationally recognized, have had to face bribery and corruption attempts aimed at violently snatching gold medals from the country, at buying highly trained and experienced boxers, as they try to do in the case of baseball players and other prominent athletes.

The Cuban athletes who competed in Beijing and, instead of gold medals, brought home silver or bronze medals or any kind of acknowledgment are to be commended as representatives of amateur sports, which rekindled the Olympic movement. They are without parallel in the world.

What dignity they showed during the competitions!

Professional athletics were introduced into the Olympics because of commercial interests which turned sports and athletes, as we’ve said, into mere commodities.

Cuba’s Olympic baseball team showed an exemplary conduct. In Beijing, they twice defeated the U.S. selection, the country that invented that sport which, because of the commercial interests of big companies, was excluded from the Olympics. This year, 2008, is, for now, its last in the Olympics.

The final match against South Korea was dubbed the tensest and most extraordinary that the Olympics have ever known. The game was decided in the last inning, with three Cubans on base and an out.

The adversary’s professional baseball players were like batting machines. They had a left-handed pitcher who threw varied speed balls with surgical precision. An excellent team. Cubans do not practice the sport for profit. They are trained, as all our athletes are, to serve their country. Were this not the case, the country, small in size and of limited resources, would lose them forever. It would be impossible to calculate the value of the recreational and educational services they offer the nation in the course of their lives, in all provinces and the Isle of Youth.

In volleyball, Cuba’s team defeated the U.S. selection in the qualifying round. They had been climbing from the lowest end of a more than 50-rung ladder. Even though they returned with no medals, this is a feat that will go down in history.

After a difficult match against a Russian rival, Mijaín proudly won Cuba’s first gold medal in the discipline.

Dayron Robles won the gold by a wide margin. The rain had soaked the brand-new track. Without the rain, he could have easily broken the Olympic record, let alone the world record he had set weeks earlier in the difficult 110-meter hurdles, which requires pinpoint accuracy. He is a disciplined and tenacious 21-year-old with nerves of steel.

Yoanka González won Cuba’s first Olympic cycling medal.

Leonel Suárez, who won a bronze medal in the decathlon, will turn 21 in September. The results obtained in each of the 10 competitions in their extremely difficult sports are indeed impressive.

There are many athletes of great merit, men and women I cannot mention here but who cannot be forgotten.

More than 150 athletes from our small island participated in the 2008 Olympics and put up a fight in 16 of 28 sport disciplines there.

Our country does not practice chauvinism or commercialize sports, which are as sacred as the people’s education and health. What it practices, rather, is solidarity. Years ago, it created a Physical Education and Sports Training School, with capacity for more than 1,500 students from the Third World. With that same spirit of solidarity, it celebrates the triumph of the Jamaican sprinters, who won six gold medals, the Panamanian jumper who won a gold medal, the Dominican boxer that won the same medal or that of the Brazilian volleyball players who dealt a crushing defeat to the U.S. team and came in first.

In addition to this, thousands of Cuban sports trainers have worked in Third World countries.

These merits do not exempt us in the least from assuming present and future responsibilities. In world sporting competitions, for the reasons we pointed out, a qualitative leap has taken place. We no longer live in the time in which we managed to become the world’s first in gold medals per inhabitant in relatively little time, and that isn’t going to happen again, of course.

We account for around 0.07 % of the world’s population. We cannot be strong in all sports like the United States, which has at least 30 times our population. We cannot have access to even 1 % of the facilities and different types of equipment that they possess, nor avail ourselves of the varied climates they have. The same holds for the rest of the rich world, which has at least twice as many inhabitants as the United States does. They account for around one billion inhabitants.

The fact that more nations are competing and competitions are now tougher attests, in part, to Cuba’s victory as an example to the rest of the world. But we are resting on our laurels. Let us be honest and recognize this, all of us. It doesn’t matter what our enemies are saying. Let us be serious about this. Let us go over every discipline, every human and material resource we devote to sports. We must analyze this deeply, apply new ideas, concepts and knowledge. We must distinguish between what is done for the sake of our citizens’ health and what is done for the sake of competing and making this instrument more accessible for the wellbeing and health of everyone. We could abstain from competing outside the country and the world would not end because of this. I think the best course of action is to compete both inside and outside the country, to face all difficulties and make better use of all human and material resources available.

Let us prepare ourselves for important future battles. Let us not be taken in by London’s smiles. There, we will find European chauvinism, corrupt referees, the buying of muscle and brains (an incalculable loss) and a strong dose of racism.

Let no one even dream that London will achieve the level of safety, discipline and enthusiasm that we saw in Beijing. One thing is certain: there will be a Conservative government that is perhaps less belligerent than the current one.

Let us not forget the decency, honesty and professional prestige enjoyed by our international referees and internationalist sport workers.

All of our solidarity accompanies the tae kwon do athlete and his trainer. For those who are returning today, the ovation of all Cubans.

Let us give a warm welcome to our Olympic athletes in all parts of the country. Let us extol their dignity and their merits. Let us do for them everything in our power.

A gold medal for honor!

Fidel Castro Ruz
August 24, 2008

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