The importance of sports in Cuba stems from the interest of former government dictator, Fidel Castro, although prior to this a sporting career was a way in which a lucky few managed to escape the poverty in Cuba.


Through the historical links with Spain, typically enjoyed sports were jai alai (a racket ball game) bullfighting and cock fighting. Nowadays popular Cuban sports are many of those which are also popular in the neighbouring U.S. such as Cuban volleyball, Cuban baseball (the biggest sport in Cuba), Cuban boxing and athletics.

Cuban sports prowess is significantly high when you consider the size of the country, how poor it is and how the country has managed to maintain itself as a dominant force at the Olympic games over the last 3 decades.


In the 1900 Paris Olympics, the first Olympic games in which the country participated, Cuba came in at 12th position on the medal board. Cuba has been represented at 18 of 26 games from 1900 to 2008 inclusive.

The most significant number of medals has been won in the Boxing, Athletics, Judo, Wrestling and Fencing events. Over half the medals won in boxing events have been gold medals.

Cuba's overall place in the medal lists is as per the below table for the years 1972-2008. The years 1984 and 1988 are not included as Cuba did not participate those years.

Cuba Olympic Results, 1972 - 2008
year 1972 1976 1980 1992 1996 2000 2004 2008
place 15 8 4 5 8 10 11 28
gold 3 6 8 14 9 11 9 2
silver 1 4 7 6 8 11 7 11
bronze 4 3 5 11 8 7 11 11


The Cuban government dictator, Fidel Castro, who ran the country for 5 decades is a sports fanatic and as such has promoted sports in schools and to the general nation of Cuba. He has been a regular visitor to see the the country's national teams in training as well as being a spectator of the National Schools Games.

Before the Castro regime came into power, sport was something for the wealthy in Cuba. Castro promoted investment in sport, being "the right of the people".

The sports program initiated had 2 principal goals. Sporting prowess would symbolize the success of the Cuban revolution and would also create a sense of national pride in the Cuban people. Mass promotion of sport participation served various political goals.

In February 1961, the National Institute of Sport, Physical Education and Recreation (INDER) was set up. One of the founders, Raudol Ruiz says that the institute was set up "to give everyone the opportuntity to practise and play sports". Physical education was supposed to break down class and racial divides as well as improving the general health of the people, under the slogan el deporte es salud (sport is health), one of the themes of the Revolution.


Results were quick to show as the public were given access to private sports clubs and centres and all costs for participating in sports and sporting events had been dropped by 1967.

In the 1976 Cuban constitution, sport was included in no less than four points and had its own article, Article 51, stating that "everyone has the right to physical education, sports and recreation". In a speech by Castro a year later, the Cuban government leader reinforced that the health of the Cuban people was the priority and that searching for international sporting champions was the secondary goal.

In Cuba, children are given the opportunity to develop their sporting talents. The junior Olympic program began in 1963, allowing every Cuban school to participate. Children who do well or are seen to have potential then have the opportunity to develop their sporting prowess at a specialist school.

Cuban sports have a big budget. Approximately 80 million U.S. dollars has been injected each year, since 1990, into Olympic sport and the country's sports budget is around 120 million per year. By the end of the last century, Cuba's sports system was a self financing operation running on prize monies won and exporting both sports equipment and Cuban sports coaches to other countries.

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