|Issue No 105||03 August 2001|
The Locker Room
In the world of amateur boxing Cuba rules OK. John Duncan, a sports journo for the English Guardian newspaper, undertook a journey to discover the secrets of Cuban success. Noel Hester reviews the resulting tale, In The Red Corner.
In the 1970s the legendary Cuban heavyweight Teofilo Stevenson, a three time Olympic gold medallist, was offered $US1 million - a serious amount of money at the time - to fight Muhummad Ali.
Stevenson's moral reflexes - as sharp as his jabs - led him to reject the offers to turn pro and leave Cuba where professional boxing was illegal.
'No, I won't abandon my country for a million dollars nor even for much more than that,' he told the world. 'What is a million dollars compared to the love of 11 million Cubans? I've seen the pros on television and I reckon Muhummad Ali is the best. But there are plenty of pros I could beat right now.'
Fast forward to the 1990s and the Yankee Don Kings are again waving fat financial carrots in front of the new Cuban superstar Felix Savon.
Savon, who at the Sydney Olympics was to emulate his revered compatriot when he picked up his third Olympic gold medal, was offered a staggering 10 million dollars to fight Mike Tyson. Like Stevenson he turned up his nose at the temptation of instant wealth.
'I did it because when you leave the island you lose everything, you don't think about anyone else and no one thinks about you. Here in Cuba I have the confidence of eleven million Cubans. But I could be a professional, I know that for sure because people I have fought and beaten have turned pro and become champions.'
Why these stellar athletes, with easy opportunities for instant wealth before them, choose patriotism and to maintain the integrity and purity of their amateur sport rather than enrich themselves is an intriguing subject of sports analysis.
The stock Western explanation is that these athletes are pampered by the state and enjoy lives of immense privelidge within impoverished societies.
Duncan tells some startling stories of his year in Cuba which strongly challenge this view. One anecdote in particular where he recounts the sad chase by two world champions to find affordable second hand tyres for their Lada while on a trip to Budapest doesn't suggest a hedonistic lifestyle back in Cuba.
And as Duncan points out, while it may be possible to convince yourself that athletes could be bullied into saying the right thing for fear of the consequences, who could bully Teofilo Stevenson?
In The Red Corner has some interesting insights but fails to adequately explain the loyalty of these athletes to Cuba and its revolution. Duncan has difficulty in transcending the enormous cultural gap between the West and Cuba and in understanding how money might not be the be and end all to someone living in a fundamentally different social system.
But he does touch on the reasons for their phenomenal success in the ring. And behind the mystique of that success are very basic reasons - the prominence of boxing in schools and the strata of well organised academies that nurture and develop the talent.
The most enjoyable chapters of the book are the potted biographies of the great Cuban boxers from before and after the revolution such as Kid Chocolate, Angel Espinosa, Kid Gavilan and Adolfo Horta as well as Stevenson and Savon. There is also the story of one boxer - Joel Casamayor - who did follow the siren call to Miami to join the professional ranks and at least to some extent fulfilled the prophesies of Stevenson and Savon.
Interview: Whose Advocate?
Employment Advocate Jonathon Hamberger argues the case for his organisation's survival and reveals his secret union past.
Politics: CHOGM: What Should Unions Do?
Activists Peter Murphy and Vince Caughley kick off the debate about what is the appropriate action ot take when CHOGM leaders meet in Brisbane
E-Change: 2.1 - The Changing Corporate Landscape
In the second part of their series on the impact of new technology, Peter Lewis and Michael Gadiel try to understand the new corporate playing field.
Jim Marr reports that the Employment Advocate has been handed a chance to salvage some credibility by cleaning up anti-union practices in the call centre industry.
Economics: Privatisation: The Dangerous Road
Frank Stilwell argues that the corporate collapses of HIH and One Tel are potent reminders of the downside of ‘people’s capitalism’.
History: Hard-Earned Lessons
Art Shostack looks at the legacy of the landmark strike by PATCO air traffic controllers 20 years ago.
International: Political Prisoner
Greenpeace campaigner Nic Clyde, facing up to six years gaol in the United States for taking part in a non-violent protest, speaks exclusively with workers Online.
Review: Seven Pubs and Seven Nights
Labor Council's newest recruit, Susan Sheather, shows she respects tradition by going in search of the perfect bar
Satire: Obituary: Mr Rob Cartwright - Captain of Industry
In all fields of endeavour, there are those who command our respect through their sheer commitment to excellence. One such titan was Rob Cartwright, whose chosen field, the obscure HR discipline of "moving people onto individual contracts" lost its greatest practitioner and champion late last night, following a tragic self-inflicted accident.
View entire latest issue
© 1999-2000 Labor Council of NSW
LaborNET is a resource for the labour movement provided by the Labor Council of NSWURL: http://workers.labor.net.au/105/b_sportspage_noel.html
Last Modified: 15 Nov 2005