Escapes bleed Cuban sport and threaten its Olympic lineage

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Havana (AFP) – The growing exodus of Cuban athletes, driven by the difficult economic situation on the island, seems to have no end and has set off alarms ahead of the 2024 Paris Olympics, with the loss of champions, world champions and great prospects.

The chain of escapes occurs when Cuba is facing a wave of migration, in the midst of its worst economic crisis in three decades, due to the effects of the pandemic and the intensified US embargo.

In July, the Cuban Institute of Sports (Inder) confirmed that the athlete Yaimé Pérez, discus thrower, left her delegation in the United States, when she was participating in the Eugene-2022 Athletics World Cup, where Cuba had its worst performance in those events. .

As it usually does in these cases, the institute described the flight as “serious indiscipline”.

Pérez, 31 years old and champion in Doha-2019, stayed on a layover at the Miami airport when returning to the island. Before, the javelin thrower Yiselena Ballar, 19, had also stayed there.

In March the canoeist Fernando Dayán Jorge, Olympic champion in Tokyo-2020, left his group at a training base in Mexico.

According to the journalist Francys Romero, author of the book “Stories of the emigration of Cuban baseball (1960-2018)”, in the last three years more than a hundred athletes have left Cuba or broken with the island’s federations, including stars Olympians of the stature of Juan Miguel Echevarría (long jump), Ismael Borrero (wrestling) and Andy Cruz (boxing).

“Rethink that policy”

“Cubans have that potential, they have great sports development and then deciding that they can develop this potential, that they can do better in other latitudes, they are not going to doubt it,” the academic from the University of Costa Rica, George Wolf.

“There is not much to turn the issue around, it is social mobility, which is essential in modern life,” and “Cuba has to rethink that policy,” which does not give material conditions to its athletes to retain them. “A lot of them are going to desert him.”

In an attempt to stop the leaks, the authorities in 2013 authorized their athletes to sign for foreign clubs.

The volleyball player, Robertlandy Simón, who left in 2011 and one of those who has shone abroad, believes that his colleagues will continue to leave for economic reasons.

“They do not have the possibility of having a full life in our country and that possibility is given to them by other countries,” says the player, readmitted to the national team in 2019, after almost a decade playing in other leagues such as the Italian and the Brazilian.

In Cuba, even “demonstrating a lot of quality, you just don’t get what you want, your family in general has a lot of work” and “what you want is to help,” adds Simón, considered the best central defender in the world.

Leonel Suárez, double Olympic medalist and double world champion in the decathlon -based in the United States-, agrees that Cuba must carry out “a good reform” and give its athletes better conditions to “get out of the hole,” he says.

Migration in sport from Cuba, for decades an Olympic power, is not new, it began with the triumph of the revolution in 1959, when professional sport was abolished, but departures increased in the 1990s.

More than 800 athletes left in the last ten years, according to official figures.

“A decline” in Paris

The concern is that the leaks come early in a short three-year Olympic cycle.

“We will see a decline in Cuba’s results at the Olympic Games,” because “renovating and replenishing the starts is not easy,” says a Cuban expert, who preferred not to reveal his identity.

“An elite athlete is not trained in four, eight or ten years”, and “giving ownership to second figures is not a guarantee of immediate success at the first level”, he adds.

Last June, the triple jumpers Jordán Díaz, Andy Díaz and Pedro Pablo Pichardo, Olympic champion and current leader of the world ranking, took the podium in the Diamond League in Paris, but none represented the island.

Boxing, the “flagship” of Cuban sports, was authorized last May to enter the professional ring. He had not suffered a significant loss since the double Olympic champion, Robeisy Ramírez, left the selection in Mexico in 2018.

However, the Olympic champion and triple world monarch Andy Cruz was expelled last July from Cuban sports, after an attempt to emigrate illegally by raft from the island.

“I want to go,” was read then in a caricature of him posted on his Twitter account, among other messages that express his desperation to reach the great arenas of the United States, where the main boxing titles are disputed.

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