Academic journal article The International Journal of Cuban Studies

The (Soft) Power of Sport: The Comprehensive and Contradictory Strategies of Cuba's Sport-Based Internationalism

Academic journal article The International Journal of Cuban Studies

The (Soft) Power of Sport: The Comprehensive and Contradictory Strategies of Cuba's Sport-Based Internationalism

Article excerpt

Abstract

The Cuban government creates and seeks opportunities to engage in collaboration, diplomacy, commerce, and trade in order to pursue its own concepts of progressive international development, which involves garnering much needed hard currency and political benefits for its national interests. Such strategies include the organisation and deployment of sport and physical activity programmes. Based on our analysis of, and interactions with, Cuba's Ministry of Sport - the Instituto Nacional de Deportes, Educación Física y Recreación (INDER) - we suggest that INDER pursues both sport development and sport for development - at home and abroad - while simultaneously seeking economic benefits through its for-profit enterprise division named Cubadeportes. The implications of this comprehensive and sometimes contradictory approach are considered, in terms of politics, policy, internationalism and the place of sport therein.

Keywords: sport development, sport for development, Cuban athletes, sport education, internationalism, capacity building in sport

The Place of Sport in Cuban Internationalism

As this special issue of IJCS demonstrates, the Cuban approach to internationalism combines aspects of international solidarity, national interest, and the pursuit of development goals, both at home and abroad. The Cuban government creates and seeks opportunities to engage in collaboration, diplomacy, commerce, and trade in order to project its own concepts of progressive development, and also to garner much needed hard currency and political benefits for its national interests. In this way, and as Huish and Blue (this issue) note, the Cuban case may well lend itself to a working example of Joseph Nye's (2005) understanding of 'softpower'.

While this strategy of Cuban internationalism has received significant scholarly attention in policy domains such as health care (Kirk and Erisman 2009; Huish and Kirk 2007), in this article we suggest that similar consideration should be afforded to Cuban sport and physical education. That is, while recognising the political and cultural significance of sport in Cuba (see Carter 2008a, 2009), a comprehensive understanding of Cuban internationalism needs to include sport alongside other policy areas like health care, education, and foreign aid.

At the same time, there are policy dimensions particular to sport and physical education which deserve specific recognition when making sense of Cuban internationalism. Chief among these policy dimensions unique to sport is the possible tension between 'Sport Development' and 'Sport for Development'. The former refers to the building of capacities for sporting success (both elite and participatory) and is most often concerned with the role assumed by government in the deliberate and strategic organisation and provision of sporting opportunities (see Hylton and Brahman 2007; Bloyce and Smith 2010). The latter, by contrast, suggests a focus on the broader social, health and economic benefits that may result from the structures and opportunities that sport affords (Coalter 2007). This strategic organisation, mobilisation and leveraging of sport as a means of achieving development goals in social, health and economic terms - both domestically and internationally - has become an increasingly important feature of sport policy in recent years (see Coalter 2007; Darnell 2012). To a degree, 'Sport Development' and 'Sport for Development' can be viewed as competing paradigms within the political organisation of sport; at the least, how best to reconcile the pursuit of elite sporting success against the opportunity costs for a broader, more transformative mandate for sport and physical education remains a matter of significance in sport policy (see Houlihan 2011). That is, even though elite sport is now often championed as compatible with a social development mandate (Bloyce and Smith 2010), 'Sport Development' and 'Sport for Development' can still be pitted against each other in seemingly zero-sum terms. …

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