The Rise & Rise of Soccer in Cuba
By Yasiel Cancio, Photos: Marcelino Vázquez and Prensa Latina
Two decades ago soccer in Cuba was something decidedly remote and alien. Baseball, the national sport, was the only show in town for Cuban sports fans and soccer news was relegated to minority interest television coverage, almost always only during World Cups.
The rivals were not competing on a level playing field. Baseball fans enjoyed almost daily updates on major leagues and first-class players, while any detailed soccer news was broadcast only once every four years.
Cuba’s national soccer team never qualified for international competitions and were generally held in low esteem, which further discouraged fans from following the sport.
The game did however attract a small but growing following of fans who soon began to gaze beyond the traditional horizons of Brazil and Argentina during world championships and develop an interest in the European Cup, Americas Cup and European league games.
A decline in Cuban baseball also opened the eyes of a younger audience to soccer, which is often referred to here as “the most universal” ofsports.
It has not taken long for this fast growingarmy of fans to declare allegiances to one clubor another. Many follow the fortunes of RealMadrid and FC Barcelona and a few opt for thelikes of Manchester United or Bayern Munich.And Cuban television, which broadcasts alimited number of Major Leagues and NBAgames, is now flooding the sports channel withsoccer matches.
Follower loyalty to Madrid or Barcelona hassuddenly become such a part of everyday lifethat young Cubans now talk more about Spanishsoccer than the World Baseball Classic or the nationalseries.
This is all in the context of a national teamthat has still not attained the resources, skillsor talent to compete on the international stage.Cuban soccer fans are presently dreamingabout a Champions League with Barcelonaand/or Real Madrid taking to the pitch.
The interest of fans continues to diversifyas a growing number now follow thefortunes of Portugal and Cristiano Ronaldo,as much a star of marketing and publicity asof the game itself