In other words, are sacrifices being made fairly by the collective group?
Last month, I caught a great documentary on the local PBS station called "Victory is Your Duty." It is perhaps the best documentary that focuses on Cuba's youth boxing academies and provides a very rare and intimate glimpse into what many boxing fans have been dying to know: how does Cuba train champions?
In 2002, BBC reporter Daniel Schweimler went to Cuba to answer this question. He found out what many had suspected about the effective Cuban sports system: state priorities to provide athletic facilities throughout Cuba, a rich sports history, attention to young athletes, a competitive system between regional academies, a coach's good eye for talent, and a mixture of national pride and sacrifice.
In 1996, a Canadian sports psychologist (and accomplished athlete herself), Susan Butt, believed that Cuba's many athletic accomplishments were mainly due to "feelings of competence and co-operation" that were promoted within the Cuban sports system, instead of emphasis in "aggression and competition" as seen in other developed nations. Cuba, at the time, had achieved more medals in the 1996 Summer Olympics in Atlanta than other developed nations, such as Britain, Japan and Canada. Furthermore, Cubans were still suffering the economic hardships of the Special Period, and 1996 only saw a recovery that Carmelo Mesa-Lago [PDF] described as "extremely weak."
But, Cubans still live in desperate times, and are still making sacrifices.
Andrew Lang, director of Victory is Your Duty, captures these elements and more in his film. Lang, in his production notes comments: "To train for five hours a day, be constantly hungry, and live in poor conditions is a lot to ask of anyone, let alone a ten-year-old child." It is a great responsibility that Cuban children learn to carry, sometimes by force. In one scene in Victory is Your Duty, a father bluntly tells his child in training that his failure in boxing academy will have a negative impact on the entire family. Its the same father that earlier in the film cries for not having enough to feed his family a decent meal each day.
Sports fans agree: Cuba is a boxing powerhouse (at least in the amateurs). But behind it all, as Lang points out: "despite this warmth and joy, there's often sadness behind the smile."
Hans De Salas-del Valle, a research associate at UM's Cuba Transition Project, believes that Cuba's youth have given up on the Revolution. According to Salas-del Valle, "Cuba is really losing its future, its young generation, which either [is] opting to try to hustle to make a dollar from tourists on the island, instead of pursuing higher education, or willing to risk their lives by venturing out into the Florida straits to reach the United States."
The latest news about the two Cuban boxers, Guillermo Rigondeaux and Erislandy Lara, seems to indicate that they did in fact try to defect, despite their several comments on Cuban state media to the contrary.
[Photo by Errol Daniels]