Saturday, January 16, 2010

The Miami Herald Ana Menendez column: Fight, bow -- if only politicswere like judo.(Column).

ShopPBS.OrgOnline Fitness Logo

Girl Power!, originally uploaded by MajorConfusion. USA, LLC

ArabicChinese (Simplified)Chinese (Traditional)DeutchEspanolFrenchItalianJapaneseKoreanPortugueseRussian

May 11--All sports aim at mastery over an opponent, a defining fact that makes it difficult to watch Team USA put Cuba in a chokehold and not see 50 years of geopolitics twist across mat No. 1.

But heart-stopping throws and headlocks aside, judo means "gentle way." And when Taraje Williams-Murray and Yasmani Piker bowed to one another after their match at the James L. Knight Center on Friday morning, one could only wish politics were as civilized a game.

The 2008 Pan American Judo Championships welcomed 177 athletes from 25 countries to downtown Miami last week, among them Cuba. This last is significant because no Cuban national team has competed in Miami in decades. In a city where even a game of shuffleboard might once have been overshadowed by politics, the presence of the Cubans was greeted with little more than a shrug.


You can argue that Raul Castro's reforms are a joke; you can say that Miami is not evolving quickly enough. But last week, Cuban athletes met their American counterparts in an arena free of ideological posturing. In this town, that counts as a small victory for progress.

"Five years ago, the Cuban team would be in a corner guarded over by security and not allowed to talk to anyone," said former Cuban judoka Wilfredo Ruiz, 43, who sat next to me in the stands Friday. "Now there isn't anyone even watching them. That's the way it should be. Sports is not politics."

Sure, a handful of protesters gathered outside the center Thursday. But you sensed that some marched more out of habit. Few spectators paid them any mind.

Instead, between matches, the Cuban judoka could be seen posing for pictures with Cuban-American fans and wandering around the lobby of the Hyatt Regency without their minders.


"I even saw a few of them walking around the streets, shopping," said Ernesto Taillacq, a former Cuban trainer now with the Honduran team.

"No, not shopping!" corrected an alarmed Gustavo Diez, president of the Cuban Judo Federation. But he allowed that there was a great "spirit of fraternity" among the athletes. "We've been treated well," he said. "We're just here to compete. That's all."

That's not quite all. In Cuba, like Miami, the most innocent endeavors are tainted with politics. And sports, like other forms of communication, are inherently political. If it weren't so, everyone wouldn't insist so vehemently on the need to keep them separate.


Still, most people can appreciate the world that separates the athlete from the politician. "It just so happens that sports is the best answer for opening communication," said USA Judo chief Jose Humberto Rodriguez, who was born in Cuba.

"That's why the Olympic games exist.

Most of the phone calls that Rodriguez has received have been supportive, he said. "I knew that this is the sort of response we would get," he said. "It was just a matter of time before we had the Cubans here and competing."

He paused to consider the historic moment. "It's kind of interesting that the first team that competes here happens to be a contact sport," he said. "It could have been volleyball or table tennis."

Instead, it was judo, the sublime sport where athletes mingle sweat and blood, throw each other to the ground, then shake hands and bow to one another.

Politics should be so gentle.

To see more of The Miami Herald or to subscribe to the newspaper, go to

Copyright (c) 2008, The Miami Herald

Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.

For reprints, email, call 800-374-7985 or 847-635-6550, send a fax to 847-635-6968, or write to The Permissions Group Inc., 1247 Milwaukee Ave., Suite 303, Glenview, IL 60025, USA.

Source Citation
"The Miami Herald Ana Menendez column: Fight, bow -- if only politics were like judo." Miami Herald [Miami, FL] 11 May 2008. Academic OneFile. Web. 16 Jan. 2010. .

Gale Document Number:CJ178869400

Previous Next

ArabicChinese (Simplified)Chinese (Traditional)DeutchEspanolFrenchItalianJapaneseKoreanPortugueseRussian
Personalized MY M&M'S® CandiesUnited States Judo Association - USJA (Web-Page)
(Album / Profile) hhref="">>DicksSportingGoods.comShop the Official Coca-Cola Store!href="">

No comments: