History Of Cuban Sport

Cuba is a country steeped in sporting history.

The country has been heavily entwined with the USA for decades and this has fed into the country’s sporting scene.

History Of Cuban Sport

Most spanish-speaking countries favour soccer over American sports like baseball or basketball, however Cuba is an outlier being a spanish-speaking country that loves baseball, the sport is so popular that it is the national sport of Cuba.

Cubans don’t just play baseball, the people also enjoy playing a range of sports such as basketball, volleyball, soccer and athletics.

The country finds a lot of success in amateur boxing every time the Olympics comes around with boxers typically bringing home a medal.

Olympic History

Where better to start when talking about a country’s sporting history than with the oldest sporting competition in existence.

Cuba has been sending athletes to the Summer Olympic Games since the Paris Olympics in 1900.

Cuba boasts a strong medal tally of over 200 medals leaving them 20th in the all time medals table ahead of big sporting nations like Spain, Brazil and the inventor of the Olympics, Greece.

The biggest haul of medals in a single Olympic Games came in 1992 at the Barcelona games. They took home 31 medals, 14 being golds.

Cuba dominates the boxing event, the country has 78 medals in the sport with 41 well over half being gold.

Their next best sport is athletics boasting a total of 45 medals, 11 being gold.

Baseball is a relatively new sport to the Olympic stage, officially debuting at the 2008 Beijing games.

Cuba are currently the leading nation in Baseball medals with a total of five.

The next best being the US and Japan both on four, the tally looks close but when you look at the gold medals Cuba are clear out in front with three to the US and Japan’s one.

The country also has the fifth highest number of medals amongst countries who have never hosted the Olympic Games.

With Cuba being a subtropical country it is expected that their medal tally for the Winter Olympic Games would be a lot lower than the Summer Games.

Unsurprisingly you would be correct in that assumption, as the country has never even attended the Winter Games.

Soccer

Soccer

The Cuban National Football team nicknamed Leones del Caribe (Lions of Caribbean) currently rank 177th in the FIFA rankings.

Cuba were the first team in the Caribbean to reach a World Cup Quarter-Final.

The 1938 World Cup saw Cuba beat Romania in the round of 16 before being knocked out by Sweden in an emphatic 8-0 loss.

The 1938 tournament marks the first and last time Cuba made it to the World Cup. Cuba has found more success in the Caribbean Cup.

The Caribbean Cup is for countries that are members of the Caribbean Football Union, Cuba had been runners up in the competition several times before they finally won the competition in 2012.

Like a lot of sports the Cuban National Team suffers from having players either migrate or defect to the United States.

Some examples are during the 2002 Gold Cup held in Los Angeles two Cuban players Rey Angel Martinez and Alberto Delgado chose to remain in the United States.

In 2005 the Gold Cup would again lead to Maykel Galindo doing the same.

Just two years later once again Osvaldo Alonso and Lester More would defect during the Gold Cup.

There would not be another incident in the first team until 2015, when the Gold Cup would give Keiler Garcia the chance to defect to the United States ahead of Cuba’s first match against Mexico.

One of the defectors Lester More is still Cuba’s all time leading goalscorer with 30 goals in 62 appearances just under a goal a game.

Who knows how many more he would have had if he had not defected to the US.

Baseball

Baseball was introduced to Cuba in the 1860s by Cuban students who had returned home from US Colleges.

The sport spread like wildfire and during the 1870s it became the most played sport in the country.

Even with its American origins, baseball has remained strongly tied to Cuban nationalism.

Since the Cuban Revolution the league system in Cuba has been made nominally amateur.

The top players are placed on the Cuban national team and will earn money for training and playing in international tournaments.

The Cuban National Series is the primary domestic professional baseball competition in Cuba.

The league has 16 teams each representing a province of Cuba and Industriales located in Havana.

The most successful team is Industriales with 12 titles.

Most top players prefer to play in Havana the capital of Cuba thus this makes Industriales a much stronger team than others in Cuba.

Despite being the strongest and most decorated team, Industriales have not won a title since 2010.

Cuban Baseball has produced some of baseball’s all time greatest players, perhaps the greatest of the long list of Cubans was Tony Perez who played from 1964 to 1986.

His career highlights include being inducted into the MLB Hall of Fame, a seven time All-Star and being a two time World Series Champion.

Being inducted to the MLB Hall of Fame is an honour millions wish for but what made it even more special for Tony Perez was being the first Cuban born player to be inducted.

Final Thoughts

Cuba is a sporting powerhouse not only in the Caribbean but in the world.

A country with a steeped history of sporting excellence mixed with the challenges of living in a country where sporting idols can one day be leading your country to greatness and then defecting to another country.

Baseball is currently the national sport of Cuba but that may be subject to change, with the younger generation soccer seems to be the preferred sport.

As the years progress we may see a swing in the nation’s favourite sport to fall in line with the rest of Latin America.

If you enjoyed this article, you might enjoy our post on ‘Sun And Salsa: The 5 Best Havana Cuba Beaches‘.

Jim Stanton