EVERYWHERE you look, in parks, lots
and apartment house patios in Cuban cities,
improvised fields in rural communities, people of
all ages are joyfully running about to the cry of
"Gol" - and not only under the sporadic influence of
a World Cup, but every day.
This effervescent enthusiasm has
today made foorball one of the most popular sports
in the country, if not the most popular.
It is no accident that Dariem Díaz,
coach of the Havana team, commented that football
has taken root in Cuba to the point that its
popularity can be described as massive, and talented
young players can be spotted on the street everyday,
as is the case in traditionally important football
countries like Argentina, Brazil and Uruguay.
Cubans are asking cardinal questions
of sports institutions. Is enough being done to
support football, to take advantage of its
popularity to elevate the competiveness of national
TALENTED YOUNG PLAYERS LEFT ON THE
According to Yunelsis Rodríguez,
Ph.D. in Physical Culture and Sports, a Havana
football coach, much more could be done, more of an
effort made, since no structure exists to
systematically recruit talented young players,
despite their presence on school, community and
In her personal experience, "Recruitment
efforts exist, yes, but more often its coincidental,
with youth and children we see on a street we walk
down, or yes, by accident, if we live in the area,"
And the issues of advisement and
logistic support also enter the debate, since in her
opinion, "There are many events organized throughout
the country by the players themselves, through their
The National Football Commission
does sponsor several projects to promote and develop
the sport, under the banner of Football For All,
according to Miguel Roselló and Miguel Fuentes, in
charge of community work for this body.
The Inter Campus project was
established with the support of the International
Federation of Association Football (FIFA) which, in
coordination with the Italian club Inter Milan, is
organizing its eighth event in Cuba. During November,
60 children per province will participate in the Las
Tunas, Holguín, Granma, Santiago de Cuba, Guantánamo
UNICEF also sponsors a program,
supervised by Gladys Bécquer, to promote mixed play
among boys and girls, awarding prizes to teams for
sportsmanship, solidarity and, of course, skills
displayed in games.
Competitions are additionally
organized in different categories (pioneers,
students, juvenile ...).
Reality, however, has shown that
this is not enough. The broad social spectrum of
players who have made football so central in Cuba
today is not being reached.
There is valuable work ongoing in
places such as the Eduardo Saborit Community Sports
Center, in the Havana municipality of Playa, for
example, although many community fields are
practically abandoned, like the Francisco Cardona in
Diez de Octubre.
Despite the conditions, everyday
players of all ages congregate here to play with a
ball someone might bring. The players themselves mow
and maintain the field, with no direct attention
from any institution, so everyone can play, for fun,
as young people do wherever a ball rolls.
It’s a shame, according to Jorge
Ricardo de la Osa, who has played here for years,
because high performance athletes emerge from such
communities, from areas like this and because there
are hundreds of frustrated amateurs who never become
the players they could be.
An example of what can be
accomplished with support, dedication and effort is
the Camaquito project headed by Swiss player Mark
Kuster, in the city of Camagüey, in coordination
with the Cuban Football Association and provincial
The Camaquito competitions organized
for all age groups have contributed to making
football the most popular sport in the city, and, as
if by magic, since the project was initiated, the
provincial team has consistently qualified for the
national semi-finals and has vyed for the
Championship on two occasions.
Camagüeyan journalist Fidel
Manzanares commented that Camaquito is known, people
follow it because it is present in neighborhoods,
organizes sports events, supports the provincial
team and trains coaches.
In the Havana neighborhood of Lawton,
for three years now a mini football tournament has
been organized and an increasing number of youth are
participating. Competition is currently held in
three divisions, the first two with eight teams and
the third with nine, in addition to a qualifying
According to Dariem Díaz, throughout
the country thousands of inter-neighborhood
tournaments have been organized very successfully.
Nevertheless, he asserted, to develop world class
football, the sport must given institutional support,
more serious attention.
This is not about eliminating
sponteneity or bureaucratizing the sport, but
providing the support needed to channel its massive
popularity which could, with systematic effort,
translate into more success at the national level,
as former Cuban team goalie José Francisco Reinoso
The key would be to involve other
sectors of society, beginning with schools, to
better organize activities collectively, to promote
competition over longer periods of time and
strengthen participation – to respond to this
epidemic of football fever as it deserves.