Castro makes pitch for Olympics
August 24, 1999
From Correspondent John Zarrella
HAVANA (CNN) -- The Baltimore Orioles have played an exhibition baseball game in Havana against the Cuban national team. Now a Nebraska youth soccer team is in Havana to play.
What's next? The Havana Olympics?
President Fidel Castro hopes so, and he has started the ball rolling to bid for the 2008 Olympics.
At all levels, Cuba relishes international competition. It is the leading Olympic power in Latin America, taking eighth place in Atlanta 1996 with nine gold medals, and fifth place in Barcelona in 1992 with 14 golds.
And when Cuba hosts international players, it goes out of its way to make a good first impression.
"The hospitality is just remarkable," said David Ross, a member of the Nebraska soccer team. "If we're on the street, people come shake our hands and say, 'Oh, you're Americans. That's awesome.'"
For the Cuban government, athletics has been a demonstration of the success of the revolution and, increasingly, a way to show the Communist island in a positive light. Now Castro is shooting for the ultimate athletic showcase.
Castro says Cuba will bid to host the 2008 Olympics on behalf of all developing countries.
"We request it, thinking of the Third World countries which have never received such a right either," Castro said. "We reclaim that right for 4.718 billion (Third World) inhabitants who have been ignored and unknown."
In the 23 Olympics since Athens, Greece, in 1896, the only Third World nation to host the games was Mexico in 1968.
While Castro is serious about the bid, it remains to be seen whether the Olympic bidding committee will take him seriously.
The last major international sporting event that Cuba hosted was the 1991 Pan-American Games. The government built a huge athletic complex for the competition. But it's not nearly big enough to handle the Olympics.
Publicly, many Cubans say they support the idea of hosting the Olympics as a way of gaining prestige, as well as badly needed hard currency.
But the Olympics cost host cities millions of dollars up front.
Privately, many Cubans wonder where their economically struggling country would get the money to stage such an event. That question will also likely top the Olympic bid committee's list.
Reuters contributed to this report.
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