I believe that any city’s true potential and its people’s life quality can be measured, among other things, by the quality of its sports facilities.
I believe that any city’s true potential and its people’s life quality can be measured, among other things, by the quality of its sports facilities. The practice of sports or fitness activities is vital for the physical and mental health of any population.
In Venezuela, three sports compete for the most popular position. Baseball, Football (soccer), and Basketball. Baseball is the sport we (as a country) have been more successful at. Venezuela has a lot of super stars in the American MLB (Miguel Cabrera, José Altuve, and Salvador Pérez, among them). Then, we have basketball as the sport more widely practiced. We have produced some NBA players (Carl Herrera, Oscar Torres, and Graivis Vásquez). Finally, there is Football, the sport that raises more passions, but the one we really suck at. We have not yet ever classified for the World Cup or won any significant regional championship; neither do we have any super star playing for any of the top world teams, yet, football is king when it comes to kids favorites and fan base.
Even though Venezuelans participate of most sports invented, these three are the most widely known and played in any town or city. The conditions, though, under which these sports are practiced and the future athletes are formed is a different story. Allow me to walk you through my city’s main sports facilities.
Let's start with the court I have closest to my home.
It was recently painted/refurbished and it is booming in activity involving both boys and girls. It is located at Plaza Bermudez, a very popular spot near downtown.
Then, we have the court located at Parque Guaiqurí (on Arismendi Street). This court I used to visit very often with my daughters. Both of them were very good at basketball and they started at a basketball school run by the Centenos Brothers. Judging by how the court looks, it seems to me that they are not playing much basketball lately.
No ring on the left board; a bent-down one on the right. There were just two kids playing futbolito. Courts like this one were built in almost every barrio, school or park. They are made of concrete and they have no benches for fans.
Let's go South now, down Cancamure Avenue where the city's "olympic stadium" is located.In theory, the best sports facilities of Cumaná should be located in this are called polideportivo; in practice, it is a different story. This area, though, is probably the most visited by athletes of all ages. Most local teams and top athletes train here.
This new building was the response of the government to the lack of sport facilities and the deterioration of the existing ones. It is called "vertical gym" and in every floor there is a different sport being practiced. The building also serves as headquarter for political activities for the governing party. I must confess I had never entered the premises precisely because of the political uses they were giving to that building.
This is the entrance of the poli, as we call it. Back in 95, before the revolution, we hosted some national games. Everything was new and functional.
Now, all we have left from those glorious years is the statue of Toñito, a dolphin mascot that was named after one of our founding fathers, Antonio José de Sucre.
Vandalism is one of the main enemies of sports and school facilities in Venezuela. It makes it easier for vandals when they see that the men and women in uniform who are supposed to watch and protect those facilities are just..."theoretical", to put it nicely.
Lack of maintenance is the second most dangerous enemy. Every time there is an event they pretend to fix and improve, but it is usually just some paint, if we are lucky enough that year.
This fountain has not had water in decades.
The roof has been gradually disappearing.
This used to be the olympic pool. We had great swimmers at some point. If there are any now, I don't know. They may be training in open waters.
Because these pools have not seen water in some 20 years.
I may be exagerating. Probably it's been 19 years.
As I headed towards the track and field area, I ran into a friend whose daughter is a sprinter. She is probably the fastest kid in the state, and one of the fastest in the country, but she has missed competitions because they have no financial support from the state or private institutions
I admire these kids' motivation and drive to continue training, even though they lack most things most athletes anywhere else have. All they have is their natural talents, some devoted trainer (if they are really lucky), and their desire to practice sports.
The wrestling gym from outside (hopefully, the wrestlers are not as rusty as the roof).
I lost track of how long they've been repairing this stadium.
At least the tracks are ready, as well as the propaganda reminding people who they must thank for the gift.
One of the most annoying things of Latin American big-state politics is this need to highlight the caudillo behind the work, as if the money came from his very pockets and they were doing the people a favor.
That part looked pretty. This part does not look that pretty
When you are leaving this area is when you see the official name of the sports complex written somewhere. It also says that there are public bathrooms.
But then you discover that they are not open to the public.
Down in that area there is the gymnastics facility. It was not opened today. I had been in there and does not look very good.
Down this hill we get to the artificial grass soccer fields. Two of my daughters used to train there with a soccer academy.
No much activity today, but usually they concentrate most of what happens here in terms of training and competitions.
Both male and female teams train here.
Let's go now across the avenue to one of the most popular training centers in town. Here the future baseball stars are born. How? I have no idea.
In this dirt field they practice also soccer. One of my daughters played here and it's really hard for small kids when they fall and scratch with sand and rocks.
Down the street we get to the Bebedero Stadium
This basketball court here looks like most in town.
My son used to play here. I attended a couple of games. This was supposed to be the second best stadium in town. You tell me
No much grass. A typical baseball/soccer field feature here
Now you may understand why latino players go crazy when they step in a major league's stadium.
Let's go now to the best stadium in town. The Delfin Marval stadium, on Gran Mariscal AV (North-East part of the city). This was supposed to be a pro stadium. It had grass back in the 90s.
It was a 45-min walk from Bebedero, so by now i am pretty tired
Let's go inside
Noup. No grass either. I had not been here in a while.
Again, my admiration for these kids and their desire to play a sport.
No real seats here either. Just concrete. You don't want a game to go to extra-innings if you have been sitting for an hour or more here.
Let's go to the only wooden floor basketball court in town. The October 26th Gym, in the Cumanagoto barrio.
They are making repairs, painting mostly. I was not allowed to enter the premises, even though I told them I did not work for any news agency. I promised good publicity, but that did not work either.
Piles of trash in front of the building
I decided to get one of the few pictures one can find on the internet, just for you to see that this court actually looks decent.
The thing about sports here is that everything is politicized. They play with athletes feelings and dreams and put them to the service of a political party/agenda.
Hopefully, one day we will have real sports infrastructure with all the comfort and facilities of the first world. Hopefully, one day athletes will not have to have their picture taken with the major, governor or president to have a chance to compete for his/her region or country.
Of course, when it comes to practicing a sport you like, you do not need much, just the desire and some imagination. Venezuelan sport lovers have plenty of that. I have a great deal of admiration for anyone who continues to practice any sport with so many limitations, and my admiration is complete for any Venezuelan athlete who becomes a world figure in their discipline. They are real heroes.