09/20/13 - Inter Press Service - Cuban Athletes Score against Violence
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 Cubas under-20 football team, told IPS. And such campaigns are
also helpful in professional training for young athletes like me, he
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
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). Cubas youth football team the first in
history to classify for an international championship also brought
messages against domestic abuse to this years 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 worlds best womens volleyball coach of the 20th century, and
footballers Luis Torres, Abel Martínez and Andy Baquero were the networks
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.
Its 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
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
A homemade video that is circulating in different formats depicts a major
scuffle between members of Havanas 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
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
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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