Sports Before the Revolution

Before the revolution in Cuba:

– Around 15,000 persons regularly practiced sports

– There were 951 sports facilities, the majority of them dedicated to elite sports practiced by the bourgeoisie and groups allied with them

– Only 2 percent of students received physical education from 609 professionals in the field, one for every 100,000 inhabitants. Of these, only 60 percent remained in the country after the dictatorship ended.

– Cuba participated in seven Olympic Games with 114 athletes and won 14 medals, of which five were gold.

– During that period of over 50 years the island entered only one woman, who won no awards, in the 80 metre hurdles in Melbourne in 1956.

– Professional boxing, baseball and track and field were the sports that were practiced most and were therefore the best known, both nationally and internationally. Many sports figures saw participation in these disciplines as a means to escape to solve their precarious economic situation and help their loved ones, even though in many cases the reality of professionalism played tricks on them and they ended their sporting lives mired in poverty, just like they started out.

– When one thinks of individuals of the calibre of Ramón Fonst, Olympic fencing champion from the Paris Olympics in 1900 and St. Louis in 1904, Manuel Dionisio Díaz , individual saber champion from 1904 and José Raúl Capablanca, world chess champion from 1921 to 1927, we realize that it was only the genius of these men that made it possible for them to attain such triumphs in exclusive sports that were only for the highest strata of society, both in Cuba and around the world.

Other disciplines like basketball, volleyball, canoeing, football and swimming were practiced in clubs, so the majority of the population had no access to them. Only at the university level could some athletes take part in official tournaments.

There was no official support for sports, and participation in regional tournaments did not go beyond simply being there, with no major accomplishment in terms of results and winning medals. Only a few individuals managed to demonstrate notable performances as was the case with our celebrated world professional boxing champion, Kid Chocolate and some baseball players of the calibre of Martin Dihigo, the immortal, the only player elevated to the Hall of Fame in four countries: United States, Mexico, Cuba and Venezuela, which represents a record internationally.


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