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Bolivia: Athletes Not a Priority at London Olympics

This post is part of our special coverage London Olympics 2012

Days before the beginning of the XXX Olympic Games in London, the Bolivian delegation arrived with more managers and trainers than athletes. Only 5 athletes will compete for Bolivia.

The number is not a coincidence. No Bolivian athlete has ever won an Olympic medal.

The blogger and Bolivian Olympic athlete in Beijing 2008 Fadrique Iglesias, comments on his blog Clavo en el zapato (Nail in the shoe) [es]:

El Quijote, la obra máxima de Cervantes, satirizó a aquellas personas que al igual que el Ingenioso Hidalgo, persisten locamente en busca de sus sueños y luchando contra sus propios fantasmas con valentía. Así probablemente se identifiquen algunos de nuestros representantes olímpicos en América Latina, y más aún en Bolivia, donde ser deportista profesional es poco menos que una quimera y una irreverencia. El deportista, desde pequeño tiene que luchar contra un entorno familiar y educativo que prima horas de estudio o de trabajo, un entorno social que le tienta por la senda de los brebajes dipsómanos, un entorno profesional inestable y un reconocimiento social absolutamente limitado. Eso por no hablar de las restricciones de infraestructura y de las posibilidades de desarrollo de los entrenadores, quijotes también a su modo, que tienen que sobrevivir al paso de los años en la soledad de las canchas deportivas.

El Quijote, Cervantes’ masterpiece, satirized those people who just as the Ingenious Nobleman, persist desperately in pursuit of their dreams and fight against their own ghosts with bravery. That is probably how some of our Olympic representatives will be identified in Latin America, and even more in Bolivia, where being a professional athlete is a little less than an illusion and an irreverence. The athlete, from a young age has to fight against a family and educational setting that prioritizes hours of study or work, a social environment that tempts you with alcoholic potions, an unstable professional environment and an absolutely limited social recognition. That is without mentioning the restrictions in infrastructure and the possibilities of development of the trainers, Quijotes as well in their own way, who need to survive the passage of the years of solitude in the athletic fields.

It's true. In Bolivia there is little incentive to play sports. Moreover the athletic and competitive culture has not been developed; the effort of becoming a professional athlete is not valued or appreciated socially or economically.

The media, the authorities and the public do not demand medals, nor would they have a reason to.

Nevertheless, days before the beginning of the Olympic competition a scandal has opened up on social networks that points directly to the Bolivian Olympic Committee (COB), and its president Edgar Claure in particular.

The digital portal Oxígeno Bolivia explains [es]:

Edgar Claure gozará de $us 250 diarios en viáticos, además de que estará alojado en un hotel de cinco estrellas, con vehículo propio y traductor; en su condición de presidente del Comité Olímpico Boliviano. En cambio, los cinco bolivianos que participarán de Londres 2012 defendiendo la tricolor, sólo recibirán $us 15 diarios y estarán alojados en la Villa Olímpica.

Edgar Claure will enjoy his US$250 daily travel allowance, as well as being put up in a five star hotel, with his own vehicle and translator; in his condition as the president of the Bolivian Olympic Committee. On the other hand, the five Bolivians who will participate in London 2012 defending the tricolor-ed flag, will only receive US$15 in daily allowance and will be put up in the Olympic Village.

The delegation is small, the country is poor and the numbers impact public opinion. Nevertheless, there is essential information that is worrisome: the money that is received is not invested in sports.

The journalist Miroslava Fernández (‏@kiske_one) [es] summarizes on her Twitter account:

@kiske_one: Se destapa escándalo. Bolivia recibe cada año 800.000 dólares. Jugosos viáticos para los 11 dirigentes y escaso apoyo a 5 atletas #JJOO

@kiske_one [es]: A scandal is opened up.  Bolivia receives 800,000 dollars each year. Juicy allowances for the 11 managers and scarce support for 5 athletes #JJOO

Before the scandal, the Bolivian government was looking for the way to intervene [es] with the Bolivian Olympic Committee. Even though the sensible voices demand that focus remain on the sports themselves. In that way, Fadrique Iglesias, concludes with a post [es]:

Está más que comprobado que los atletas aparecen como resultado de iniciativas locales y de efectos encadenados. Hay que exigir medallas y resultados internacionales, pero primero hay que comenzar por lograr una cultura deportiva, llenar los parques de niños, educar a los espectadores e incluso patrocinar a gestores profesionales para que se dediquen a ello desde la iniciativa privada. Al fin y al cabo, si se quieren resultados, la cosa es poniendo.

It has been more than proven that athletes appear as the result of local initiatives and chain reactions. We have to expect medals and international results, but first we have to start by creating an athletic culture, filling parks with children, educating spectators and even sponsoring professionals to dedicate themselves to promoting a culture of sport from a private initiative. In the end, if we want results, we have to invest.

This post is part of our special coverage London Olympics 2012.

Small image from the Flickr user failing_angel, used under the Creative Commons license Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0).

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