Thursday, May 16, 2013

The Universal Sport-Futbol


Tenzin Choephel
Reporting from Havana
Warming up for a game of soccer on the beach
Tuesday proved to be another day of touring in Havana. We had decided to go to the restoration schools in Old Havana. This is where Cuban students learn different skills to help rebuild decaying buildings in the city. To be honest, I didn’t have much interest in the tour. After a couple days of touring, I wanted to go out and explore the city for myself. While my colleges went around and looked at the restored buildings, I decided to chat with our young tour guide Darnelo. Darnelo also looked quite bored as he stood in the back. He didn’t talk or say much to our group, so I decided to go up to him and keep him company. Being a huge soccer fan, the first question I asked him was “Te gusta futbol? (Do you like soccer?)” He responded in fluent English and told me he’s a huge soccer fan. This started our conversation that lasted a good hour and a half about everything soccer related. He told me everything, from his favorite team, players, formations, and the future of soccer in Cuba.
Darnelo believes that soccer would soon pass baseball as the most popular sport in the country. This is very surprising because baseball, Cuba’s national sport, was all I heard about in my first couple of days in Havana. Darnelo credited the rise of soccer in Cuba to many things. This included watching the Spanish soccer leagues on television, the relatively cheap equipment, and how it is a global sport. When our tour finished up, Darnelo invited me to play soccer with him at El Estadio de Jose Marti (local stadium) at 6:00 p.m. that day. I immediately accepted his invitation despite not having any soccer shoes or even tennis shoes. He told me to find him in an Argentina national team soccer jersey and so we parted ways. After that I went around trying to find a pair of suitable shoes to play in. Luckily Nick, who’s in our group, had tennis shoes that fit my feet and I was ready to play some futbol in Cuba.
I decided to head out around 5:15 pm to the stadium. I found a taxi driver willing to take me there for five Cuban dollars (CUC). It was a short trip down the Malecon; Havana's seaside thoroughfare. Once I arrived, I realized I was about 30 minutes early. But this gave me the opportunity to film some of the Cubans playing sports at the stadium. It wasn’t just soccer players, but also baseball, volleyball, rugby, and track & field. There was so much activity going on in such a small place, I had time struggling to focus on soccer. Pop-flies from the youth baseball teams would head over to the soccer fields making it dangerous for me to film around those areas. Despite how old and decayed the stadium looked, it still represented Cuba’s love for sports. It didn’t matter how poorly the fields and conditions were. Cubans still showed up every day to play sports in the evening and enjoy each other’s company. For a guy like me who is a huge sports fanatic, it made me respect the people here even more. Despite their limitations of freedom from their government, sports were a gateway to liberty and happiness for them.
While filming, I was fascinated by the how well some of the players were playing on the soccer pitch. The field barely had any grass and was composed of weeds and dirt. Yet many of the youth playing had excellent ball control and skills. Some were even playing in Converse, Sketchers, taped up shoes, and with their bare feet. These were the fields that Seattle Sounders midfielder Osvaldo Alonso played on, and now I can see why he is considered one of the best players in Major League Soccer. Soccer players like me, who grew up in the United States were extremely privileged to be able to play on nice grass and turf fields. However, these nice fields don’t serve the advantages that soccer players in third-world countries get from playing on bad ones.
For example, Brazil is considered one of the greatest soccer countries in the world. They have the most World Cups, and have produced some of the best soccer players. This is attributed to their skills with the ball on rough conditions much like what I played in Cuba. They have a better feel for the ball when they play on “perfect” fields like the ones we play in the United States. I can see now why ball skills are not one of the strongest traits for professional soccer players in the U.S. Cubans, much like many other Latin and South American countries, rely on quick passing and dribbling skills, rather than physical attributes (strength & speed) to become better soccer players.
Eventually I was able to find my friend Darnelo. He was in his Argentina jersey as he promised, and he had brought along his friends. I was introduced to them as “Ten” because they couldn’t pronounce my name. But we immediately set up some goals with our backpacks and played a game of five versus five. It was a little hard to adapt to Nick’s tennis shoes. In fact, I had never played soccer in tennis shoes before. But I eventually got the hang of it. Darnelo was on the opposing team, and I was able to watch how he played. He was a very aggressive, quick, physical, and unselfish player. He made really good runs and also liked to talk a little trash to us. His team went up for a 4-0 lead early. My problem was communicating with my teammates because I knew very little Spanish. But I did know the word “aqui (here)”, so I used it as much as possible. Soon my team was able to get a little chemistry going and we started to ping the ball around. We were much younger and fit, which helped as we played longer. We eventually wore out Danelo’s team, and won the game 12 to 9.

Looking down at myself after the game, I realized Nick’s shoes, as well as my socks were caked with orange dirt. I had never been this dirty playing soccer in my life but it was a great time with Darnelo and his friends. The fact that they welcomed me and allowed me to play was the highlight of my visit to Cuba! Looking back at all the soccer players on the field, I can see that someday, very soon, we will be hearing about some really good Cuban soccer players internationally. The Cubans and I had many differences, from politics, to language barriers, and countries. But soccer continues to prove to be a universal sport. It really helps you forget about all our problems and embrace one another as friends and athletes.

No comments:

Post a Comment