It seems likely that the two strongest boxing squads in the 2008 Olympics will come from Great Britain, and as usual, from Cuba. This seems a good time to review John Duncan's excellent book on Cuban boxing, which I reviewed in issue 80 of Class War, back in 2000.
In The Red Corner: A Journey Into Cuban Boxing by John Duncan (Yellow Jersey Press, £12)
Duncan took a year off from his work as a Guardian sports journalist, initially to work for the boxing promoter Frank Warren. His aim was to arrange a series of fights between Western and Cuban fighters under both amateur and professional rules. As all professional sport has been banned in Cuba since 1961, all Duncan came away with was a good book, one which serves as a fascinating insight into Cuban boxing (past and present), but more significantly into Cuba itself.
Duncan shows us how the lives of ordinary Cubans can be damaged by the bureaucratic nightmare of the Castro regime (and before any spotty student tries to tell you otherwise it is without question a regime). Saddest of all are the apartheid style rules that keep ordinary Cubans well away from the most expensive tourist resorts. Cuba is once again the play thing of the rich, but this time only the Cuban government is allowed to make any money out of it. Quite why Cuba has traditionally succeeded in boxing is clear. The manager of Cuban boxing, Alcides Sagarra, is on the Central Committee of the Communist Party of Cuba. In 1997 his goal was to plan for the Olympics. The Olympics in mind being those of...2008!
Secondly Cuba has a clear ethos of sport for all - for love not money. This is particularly refreshing to us in the UK surrounded by greedy footballers with their bimbo girlfriends and their grasping agents. Duncan describes the Cuban ethos skilfully, particularly when discussing the Heavyweight Felix Savon who turned down 10 million dollars from Don King to turn professional. Savon comes across as being happier more often in a week than Tyson will be in the whole of the rest of his life.
However, the Cubans may well find time has left them behind. "Amateur" sport has died a death around the world, and the Cubans discovered at the 1999 World Championships that amateur boxing can be just as bent as its professional cousin. Mr Sagarra, rather like Mr Castro, has had his day.