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Human Rights

Cuban Athletes Score against Violence

Football is gaining ground among the young in baseball-crazed Cuba. Credit: Jorge Luis Baños/IPS

HAVANA, Sep 20 2013 (IPS) - It is unusual to see Cuban sports legends in public service announcements. However, a handful of champions and rising young stars are wearing messages or appearing in TV spots against violence among men or toward women.

“We can reach our fans with campaigns like this one,” Daniel Luis, a member of Cuba’s under-20 football team, told IPS. And such campaigns “are also helpful in professional training for young athletes like me,” he added.

Luis is one of a number of athletes who have joined the Cuban branch of the Ibero-American and African Masculinities Network (RIAM), an umbrella group that brings together more than seven million men and women in 40 countries on three continents who are trying to overcome “machista” stereotypes.

“Fans attack players or the rival team with racist, homophobic and machista language” -- sportscaster Alejandro Céspedes

RIAM began investigating violence in sports in 2007. This year, it has attracted dozens of athletes to participate in preventive actions. In Cuba, athletes had never been involved in anything like it.

“It has to do with social immobility. It had never occurred to us to try to involve them in campaigns like this,” RIAM Cuba coordinator Julio César González Páges told IPS.

However, it is key to do so, because “nowadays, people follow athletes much more than politicians or social leaders.”

The athletes wear pro-peace messages in games in Havana, Pinar del Río (in the west) and Matanzas (east). Cuba’s youth football team – the first in history to classify for an international championship – also brought messages against domestic abuse to this year’s FIFA U-20 World Cup in Turkey, held in June and July.

These are the public expressions, which are the result of a slower task: athletes are trained in workshops and talks at sports schools in Havana and in Pinar del Río.

To spread the word, on Aug. 30 RIAM launched the UNETE Athletes Network for non-violence against women and girls. Eugenio George, who was declared the world’s best women’s volleyball coach of the 20th century, and footballers Luis Torres, Abel Martínez and Andy Baquero were the network’s founding members.

In joining, athletes promise to be ambassadors of a culture of peace and non-violence. The network is open to all countries in Latin America and the Caribbean as part of the UNiTE To End Violence Against Women campaign led by U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon.

By February, a group of about 70 Cuban athletes had been created, 30 of whom are Olympic or world champions, such as high jumper Javier Sotomayor and boxer Félix Savón. The group has produced TV spots.

“It’s great to send out these messages, but curbing this problem requires a lot of time spent on educational work and strengthening laws,” says store clerk Alejandro Roque, a football fan. “The stadiums are very violent, and even more so when key baseball games are being held,” he adds.

During the 2010-2011 National Baseball Series, about 50 athletes and 26 coaches were expelled for poor behaviour.

“Fans attack players or the rival team with racist, homophobic, regionalist, and machista language,” sportscaster Alejandro Céspedes told IPS.

A homemade video that is circulating in different formats depicts a major scuffle between members of Havana’s Industriales baseball team and the Sancti Spíritus team that occurred in 2010 at the José Antonio Huelga stadium in the city of Sancti Spíritus in central Cuba.

“Our main target is men, especially young men,” said González Pagés. The strategy, therefore, is to focus on footballers, heroes of a sport that is becoming increasingly popular among young people in this baseball-crazed country.

In a survey that RIAM conducted in 2012 among 5,000 teens and young people in 18 Cuban cities, football was the favourite sport of 87 percent of the respondents.

Coach Darién Díaz told IPS: “The more that interest grows, the more the stands fill up during games. We have to do preventive work, talk to the athletes, show them audiovisual materials, and teach them how to manage situations of violence.” And the first goal is to eradicate acts of violence from the sports scene.

Perhaps because football is just now gaining ground in Cuba, this country is relatively safe from the extreme violence associated with that sport in Latin America and other regions. Brazil leads the list worldwide, with 23 football-related deaths in 2012, according to a study by the University of Salgado de Oliveira in that country.

In Latin America, hooligans are known as “barras bravas”, and the groups are often associated with the leaders of football clubs and with illegal activities, such as drug trafficking.

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  • Avaritia

    Very commendable. Does that mean that the Castro regime is now going to accept the recommendation made by the UN – which were summarily rejected this week – to respect the human rights of all Cubans or is this just window dressing?

  • Pope Pisius

    Now, all they have to do is stop throwing rocks, beating, harassing and verbally abusing the Ladies in White, that group courageous women who peacefully protest the inhumane incarceration of their fathers, husbands, brothers and sons for the cardinal sin of daring to speak up against them and on whom the Castro brothers sic the angry and hateful populace on at every chance they get just for having the audacity to protest. After all, they are women too even if (or perhaps more because) they fight injustice and stand up against their dictatorship.

  • Tillotson

    A good first step. Now, all the Fidel Castro has to do is blast the logo on the back of the shirts of his professionally bread athletes so that when they defect like they do (7 soccer players at once in Canada last year), they can carry their courageous message all the way into the belly of the empire. Ha ha ha!

  • Alberto P. Abreus

    Now, all the Castros have to do is extend that message to the women and underaged girls who have been forced to turn to prostitution in order to put a plate of food on their table. During Batista, Cuba was the US whore, under the Castros, Cuba is everybody’s whore and the #1 destination for sex tourists and perverts around the world. Now, if Castro only concentrated a little more on real reform and human rights and a little less on bullshit, maybe (big maybe), he could have something there. Till, then, we Cubans say: PREFERIMOS A BATISTA CON SANGRE QUE A FIDEL CON HAMBRE!


  • Alberto P. Abreus

    I will post this again since censorship seems to be very high around
    these so very democratic and open-minded parts (ISP News seems to be in
    right in step with the policies of the Castros).

    the Castros can now concentrate on protecting the women and underaged
    girls forced into pros-ti-tution so they can put a place of food on
    their tables. Under Batista, Cuba was the US w* h* o* r* e, under Castro,
    Cuba is the world’s w* h* o* r* e because that’s better, of course. Thanks
    to Castro’s communist utopia, Cuba is the #1 destination for the s* e* x
    tourists and perverts around the world who enjoy their young girls still
    carrying their school books and wearing their uniforms…all provided
    by the Communist government, of course which makes more paletable and

    EDIT: They say that three times is the charm, even if you deleted the Down with Fidel Castro, long live Cuba free! just because you’re that democratic.

  • Father_Touch_M_McFeelems

    Oh, good! Now, the sharks can respect the rights of women when they take to the ocean in homemade rafts and inner tubes in order to get to Miami and escape a life of repression, oppression, poverty, squalor and lack of freedom.


  • the dissenter

    LOL! Indeed, just at the beginning of this week, Raicel Iglesias, one of the best baseball players in the national Cuban team defeated. Castro missed a chance to put his logo on the back of his jersey. Just think, he could have worn that while playing in Miami. Good things Cuba is such a paradise, even if only to the Castros and their cadre of mafiosos.

  • the dissenter

    Do those rights also apply to Fidel Castro’s harem of concubines or not? How about to women who dare to dissent and disagree with the system? Inquiring minds wanna know…

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