Hot scoop: Under a stormy tropical sky at Havana's Pedro Marrero Stadium, Cuba dominated the 1983 Track and Field Championships of the Sports Committee for the Friendly Armies by winning 26 medals—nine gold, nine silver and eight bronze. The "friendly" army team from the Soviet Union finished second with 16 medals, followed in order by the "friendly" soldiers from the German Democratic Republic, Romania, Bulgaria, Czechoslovakia and Angola.
I got this scoop straight from Today in Sports, a five-minute English-language sportscast that is aired daily except Sunday over Radio Habana Cuba, a shortwave station that can be heard easily in North America. Today in Sports isn't an everyday, let's-check-those-scores, leave-the-politics-aside sportscast. There are no Yankee or Dodger results: no Navratilova or McEnroe postmatch interviews (understandable, since professional sports are banned in Cuba). But for the latest information on Gari Kasparov's chess match in Yugoslavia or the Cuban boxing team's preparations for the '84 Olympics. Today in Sports is where it's at.
Let's join Today in Sports on the evening of Feb. 22, as David McMurray, originator and current host of the show, editorializes, with an almost total disregard for the facts, on the forthcoming Olympics in Los Angeles:
"There's something bothering me that I've been wanting to talk about," McMurray began his commentary. "From the information I've been getting, it looks like the Games will be commercialized to the hilt, and I don't like it.
"Let's take the traditional Olympic flame. Normally the host country receives it from Athens, where it's lit, and the runners carry it...to the Olympic site itself, where it burns throughout the competition. But this time around, the organizers apparently want to charge groups willing to carry it and include advertising from companies supposedly sponsoring the Games.
"So I guess if you live in the U.S. and the flame passes through your town, you will be encouraged to buy a certain brand of beer or shaving cream. I like beer and I use shaving cream, but I don't think those products should get mixed up with amateur sports.... The Olympic movement is to promote amateur sports and to foster friendship among countries—not to help sell consumer products. Let's keep it that way."
McMurray then lambasted the L.A. Olympics as "a gold mine for every pickpocket, pimp and mugger around" and claimed that the FBI has assigned "30,000 agents to protect 15,000 athletes and tourists—a sorry statement for an event designed to promote friendship.... The Los Angeles Olympics will come off as planned," McMurray concluded, "but commercialism and the lack of security and disinterested planning could spoil them. Let's hope for the best."
Today in Sports isn't the only foreign English-language sportscast that can be monitored in North America. For the price of a moderately sensitive shortwave radio (no need to spend more than $100), one can hear soccer results from Madrid, tennis from Australia, cricket from London and ice hockey from Moscow. During my 15 years as a shortwave listener, these broadcasts have not only broadened my knowledge of international sports, but they've also sharpened my perspective on the role of sports in this complex world.
London's BBC has easily the most comprehensive and authoritative shortwave sportscast in the Western world. But for the latest news and commentary from that other arena of sports—the Communist world—I turn first to Radio Habana Cuba, which can be heard at 8 p.m. E.S.T.
Where else but on Today in Sports can you hear thrilling updates on a chess tournament in Nicaragua; or learn that Cuba tied the Soviet Union 0-0 and Czechoslovakia tied the Democratic People's Republic of Korea 1-1 in early-round play of the Youth Friendship Soccer Tournament in Cuba; or hear conflicting reports on the physical condition of Cuban track star Alberto Juantorena, who injured his right foot at the World Championships in Helsinki last August.