Being a sportsman for me goes hand in hand with being a beacon of revolutionary change. Che Guevarra even said “a guerilla is a runner.” Not only can you use your talent to better yourself but it can be used to better the masses as a whole. By dominating in your discipline you instill something in your country men that transcends into daily life.
It shouldn’t be a surprise then that most of our revolutionaries were either athletes or loved sport. My country's late president Thomas Sankara was a avid cyclist, and a footballer. Guinea/Cape Verdean liberator Amilcar Cabral was such a talented footballer that European club Benefica wanted to sign him.
Three significant countries with revolutionary vigor in sports stand out above the rest; Cuba, Venezuela, and Grenada. What makes them so significant what makes them stand out from the rest? One answer that comes to mind is that less is more. Despite these three places having meager means, they have managed to compete and excel on the world stage with the best of them. These three countries provide us Africans, and revolutionary people as a whole with an example of what can be done with self-belief and determination.
Cuba, despite economic blockades and other forms of imperialist destabilization, is a world beater. When Fidel Castro ascended to power, one of his main focuses was making sports more accessible to the masses. In this process, he took a more disciplined, militant, approach to sports. It became looked at as part of the development of a human being.
Fast forward Cuba, has the most Olympic medals in all of Latin American and Caribbean nations. Cuba’s fencing team in the 1976 Olympics put on such a clinic that the CIA, assisted by Cuban defectors sabotaged their flight home before they could enjoy their gold medals. The same Olympics, Alberto Juantorena did the impossible by gold medaling in the 400 meters and 800 meter races. The high jumper Javier Sotomayor continues to hold the world record in this event. Dayron Robles, a high hurdler, would constantly leave his opponents from more well to do countries in the dust. He has a world record and a 2008 Olympic Gold medal to show for it. In boxing, Cuba has developed its own unique school that has produced champions. Teofilo Stevenson was always thought of as one of the individuals who would dethrone the great Muhammad Ali. Even today, Cuban boxers who have decided to leave the Island to show United States their skills, are feared opponents. Elisandy Lara and Guillermo Rigondeaux are two boxers who are graduates from the Cuban school.
Venezuela arrived rather late onto the sporting scene. However, it is wasting no time in making their presence felt on the world stage with a series of firsts.
In the Fifa 2017 under 20 world cup for the first time Venezuela reached the final. On the women’s side, Deyna Castellano is now serious a contender for the FIFA world women’s player of the year. In boxing, Yoel Firol brought home Venezuela’s first ever medal in boxing in the 2016 summer Olympics. As athletics go, this is where the most promise is shown. In the 2017 world championships in athletics, devoted chavista Yulimar Rojas brought home a gold medal the for the first time ever in any event at the world championship in the Triple Jump. At the tender age of 19, Robeilys Peinado scored a bronze medal in the Pole Vault. She is quoted to have said afterwards “The spirit of Hugo Chavez is with her every time she competes.”
We are used to Jamaican domination in world athletics. However a changing of the guard has taken place. In the spirit of Cuba’s focus on sport, Maurice Bishop decided to take a page out of the same book. Now Grenadians ply their trades anywhere while putting the tiny spice island on the map in a dignified manner.
Kirani James took the world by surprise at the London 2012 Olympic by winning the first gold medal for Grenada, and followed the effort with silver in Rio to go along with his common wealth games and world championship medals. Lindon Victor, who currently attends university in the United States is the all-time collegiate record holder in the 10 event decathlon. Formula 1 driver Louis Hamilton has one everything possible on the speedway, and is a celebrity in United Kingdom as well as the pride of Grenada. Grenadian swimmer Ore Cheribum in the world of swimming and is breaking new ground.
Africa really needs to take heed to these developments. As an athlete myself, I have been approached by a few nations outside of Africa inviting me to compete for their national teams. However my conviction keeps me loyal to momma Africa. It is unfortunate that most of that most of our continents sporting talent does not even compete for the continent. When a European or rich Gulf Arab nation offers a poverty stricken African athlete infrastructure, financial, security and a higher standard of living, can he or she really be blamed for defecting?
It’s time that African leaders realize that by investing in your people, you will get a return on your investment. If we were to apply the revolutionary sports practices in our countries, different doors of revolution will be open. If we were to show the world we won’t back down from challenges in sport, and that we have all the facilities, coaches, and philosophies to back that feeling, perhaps our continent would be inspired by dominance in sport, to dominate in other areas.