10/18/13 - Havana Times - Are Cuban Sports Truly Changing?
The fans are happy with the changes allowing for professional contracts.
HAVANA TIMES A few short weeks ago, whenever you asked anyone on the
street whether they thought Cuban sports were actually changing, it didnt
take long to hear the negative. One had the impression one was talking to
one of the islands more renowned cartoon characters, Elpidio Valdes, and
hearing his unforgettable catch-phrase every time: Youd have to see it
to believe it, pal!
Well, it seems that, suddenly, one straw broke the camels back. I say
this because todays developments havent come about without slip-ups,
Hollywood-like escapades, players tendering their resignations and even
direct demands, most voiced in hallways, but some courageously addressed
to many officials, who would put on an angry face whenever they heard any
complaints, as though they were being asked to give up part of their own
Now, to the surprise of the common Cuban, the demands of fans, and the
islands athletes themselves, have finally made it to paper: the freedom
to enter into contracts with foreign teams, to collect the entirety of
their individual and team prizes, and to earn better salaries in general,
in dependence of their performance.
Before, only athletics, volleyball, judo, boxing, wrestling and chess
enjoyed some kind of monetary privilege, the small sum of 15 percent of
the earnings for the athlete and 4 percent for the coach, in the case of
individual sports. In team sports, not more than 50 percent of the
earnings had to be distributed among all members.
When it came to salaries, Olympic gold medalists received a
300-dollar-a-month salary, while silver and bronze medalists earned 200
and 100 dollars a month, respectively. World championship gold, silver and
bronze medalists received 150, 100 and 50 dollars a month, respectively.
That said, even though Cuban boxer Felix Savon won three Olympic gold
medals and six world championships, he only got paid for one of those
medals. Now, non-retired athletes get a better deal: they get paid for
every medal they earn. It is said they will also get compensation when
they retire, but this hasnt been explained yet.
Right now, therefore, many are asking themselves how much someone like
Mijain Lopez would be earning, a two-time Olympic champion and four-time
world champion, someone who has also won two Olympic silver medals.
In addition to the Cuban Convertible Peso (CUC) earnings, which are easy
to calculate (1,400 CUC), Lopez would be getting paid for his three
Pan-American titles (1,250 Cuban pesos each) and receiving his Cuban peso
incentives for his participation in the Olympics and world championships
(some 1,400 Cuban pesos).
Needless to say, though this is an extremely high salary by Cuban
standards, it is far from obscene when compared to what his counterparts
around the world make, and even to what some Cubans take in (and not
precisely through the sweat of their brows).
The weekend following the announcement of these measures, most opinions on
the street coincided on one thing: that justice had finally been done (or
was beginning to be done). Below are a number of the opinions voiced in
response to the new policy:
Alejandro (driver): I think we need to be a little quicker about these
things. They handed out the hats so late that they may not find many
willing heads now. Had they continued in their hard-headed ways, we would
have been left without a single top level athlete.
Yuri (secretary): Its a very good decision, Im happy about it. I hope
all of the countrys workers also begin to receive decent salaries, as
they are the ones who keep the country going, who shoulder most of the
economic and social burdens.
Roberto: I believe it is a very fair decision, they deserve it. We will
no longer be persecuting Cubans who choose to play on foreign baseball
teams. We also want to see our players playing in major leagues on TV. But
they should also do the same for doctors, engineers and other
professionals in the country, they also need improvement in their lives.
Alejo (medical doctor): I still think athletes should be further down the
list of priorities. Were really not helping ourselves encouraging
inflation by bolstering a non-productive sector. When all is said and
done, this is a small cosmetic change, something they know will make
people very happy. The problem of salaries in Cuba is so serious that they
had to do something, and the easiest and cheapest thing to do was to give
a small sector more elbow room. Most people have the same problems
Orlando: Of course, other professionals could feel their work is being
underestimated. This is fair, but its still only letting a bit of steam
out of a cooker that couldnt take any more pressure. My question is: do
we have to do what athletes have been doing in recent years (break the
rules, quit, have a poor performance) to get their attention?
Alexis (carpenter): You crawl before you walk and you walk before you
run. Now everyone wants to be paid better. These athletes are filling up
stadiums and thats the money that will be going into their salaries. I
know there are other professionals who contribute a lot to society, but we
cant solve all our problems at once. Lets wait and hope each of the
countrys sectors begins to improve, one by one.
Alfredo Despaigne played last season for the Campeche Pirates in the
Mexican professional league.
Alfredo Despaigne played last season for the Campeche Pirates in the
Mexican professional league. Photo: cubadebate.cu
Michel Enriquez made history some months ago when he became the first
Cuban baseball player to play in a professional league without having had
to retire from the sport in Cuba. His contract with the Mexican team
Piratas de Campeche (The Campeche Pirates) was met with great
expectations, not only in the two countries involved, but in many places
around the world as well.
Ultimately, Enriquez was unable to shine on Mexican soil due to an injury.
When Cuban players Alfredo Despaigne and Yordanis Samon were hired by the
same team, things took a different turn. Samon returned to Cuba a week
later because, according to the Pirates front office, they were looking to
him for a leadoff batter, not a power hitter. The flip side was his
compatriot from Granma, Despaigne, sought for his power, and who set a new
Despaigne concluded his stint in the Mexican Baseball League with a .338
average, having recorded 45 hits (including six doubles and eight
home-runs) in 133 at-bats. He also drove in 24 runs and had an OBP of
0.364, slugging average of 0.564, and an OPS of 928.
The right-fielder made a big impact in Mexico, where he was considered the
years top acquisition, despite having arrived to the season rather late.
As for his salary, he retained 80 percent of the earnings (eight of the 10
thousand dollars agreed to), which is the opposite of what had happened
with sports contracts before then.
In Cuba, Despaignes effort in the Mexican league was not given the
promotion he deserved in the media. This did not stop baseball aficionados
from evaluating his performance upon the players return, and to comment
about this unprecedented experience:
Jesse Gomez (computer engineer): Hes one of the great ones. I hope all
Cuban baseball players get the opportunity to shine in any foreign
Jose Hermida: I am very happy these types of arrangements are happening
now, and I hope this will keep Cuban players from emigrating. The problem
is that the difference in salaries between the MLB and the Mexican League
is tremendous, and though these new measures may help, the Majors will
always be a temptation for many. I hope we stop losing sports talents this
Alfredo Carrazana (medical doctor): The deals with the MLB are different,
but, someone as intelligent as he doesnt need to go off to the MLB. I
hope more contracts with other players are signed next year.
Julio (teacher): It was hard to speak of patriotic feelings before they
took these steps. One should be able to make use of their talent wherever
they wish and to return to home and simply get taxed for ones earnings.
A New Era Begins
Opinions aside, the truth of the matter is that this radical new measure
marks a turning point for Cuban sports.
I dont think the migration of baseball talents will be considerably
reduced by this, but athletes in other disciplines may feel a greater
incentive to stay in Cuba, where the money earned goes a lot farther.
My only hope is that we dont see a replay of 1998, when Cubas national
volleyball team was authorized to enter into a contract with Italy and the
whole tape was rewound when some players returned with injuries.
Well likely be seeing these kinds of things again, but, if we throw out
the baby with the bathwater again, well be truly hard pressed to return
to the days of glory Cuba enjoyed back in the days of the socialist bloc.
The times have indeed changed.
Original Source / Fuente Original:
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