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  • 05 / 12 / 2007

Cuban International Sports School
Cuba is a sporting force thanks to the efforts of the revolutionary government to promote the practice of sport on a mass scale, permitting the island to insert itself among the most privileged places in the international arena. But the nation does not limit itself to these goals alone; it also offers its experiences free of charge to other nations.

The International Sports School (EIEFD) is a higher educational center that has opened its doors to low-income students with a desire to become professionals in this sphere.

This young university, located some 40 kilometers southeast of Havana, opened in 1999 and was the result of a proposal by President Fidel Castro to train specialists in Latin America "to encourage this wholesome and noble activity in their countries of origin" although the institution also takes in students from Africa and Asia.

Initially, the challenge was to transform this former military academy into an institution unprecedented in the history of a country with limited resources.

Talking to Granma International, Jorge Armando Polo Vázquez, dean of the center, explained that "the International Sports School constituted a challenge given that it was conceived solely to educate young, low-income foreign students, which entailed certain adaptations of a diverse nature in order to conform to a Study Plan which did not include subjects or content that could be obstacles to their degrees being accepted in their countries."

The Dean also stated it was necessary to take into account dietary, living and religious customs, given the particular nature of each culture. "All of this obliged us to work towards designing a project of integral training that would result in highly qualified young professionals, but who at the same time possess a sense of solidarity, humanism and fraternity."

Covering 30 hectares, the university boasts socio-administrative and teaching facilities, dining rooms, dormitories, a maintenance and service infrastructure, as well as sports facilities such as open-air playing fields and gymnasiums.

Currently, the construction of a swimming pool and athletics track is being planned. The institution began life with students from 51 countries but there are currently representatives of 75.

According to Polo, "the image presented internationally is that the center will become a worldwide reference. Visits to our school by important sports leaders who thank us for training young people from their countries confirm this image."


Students at the university receive free lodging at the Student Residence as well as their board, school transport, academic services - including books - school uniform and sportswear, medical and dental care, washing and dry-cleaning. They also receive a monthly stipend of up to 100 Cuban pesos.

At the university, students have access to national and international telephones, as well as a 24-hour cafeteria, souvenir shop, barbers and hairdressers, post office, a national and international bank and bureau de change.

Other facilities offered include a 24-hour special television service, with three channels that respond to both teaching and recreational interests, and e-mail access.

However, the dean acknowledges that "no work is perfect and, although at the current time we are guaranteeing the quality for future graduates, we believe that we have to improve the infrastructure of the school, as well as the level of content with respect to the worldwide conception of sports science."

The degree course is five years in length and students graduate with a degree in Sports Science. The Study Plan is composed of 13 disciplines bringing together subjects within the faculties of Arts, Humanities, Basic Sciences through to the sports itself.

Training in first two years teaches students how to become Physical Education teachers. Classes are given in basic sports such as football, volleyball, combat sports, and other areas such as rhythmic gymnastics, basic gymnastics, Spanish and English.

From the third year onward, students can specialize in one particular sport and go on to become sports trainers. The Diploma consists of a thesis proposal on the development of a specific sport and is presented to a panel.

According to the Dean, students return to their countries "fully identified with Cuban realities through the early connection of theoretical knowledge and practice, which they have had the possibility of applying in schools and sports centers." Once graduated, they can work as Physical Education teachers or sports trainers. They will also have acquired skills to work in Physical Rehabilitation and Recreation.

The center has graduated 807 students from 60 countries in just two courses, and some of those graduates are now occupying executive posts in their countries sports institutions. This is the case of Carlos Carvallo, from the first graduation year, who is now working with Bolivian professional soccer league.

For the university rector, students have to overcome obstacles such as recognition for their degrees in their respective countries, given that they have to face bureaucratic and economic difficulties. On the other hand, they are attempting "to construct a worldwide network through which they can exchange experiences and knowledge in favor of the development of physical activity, and so that they maintain contact and feedback with the center where they took the first steps towards their professional training."


The young people studying at the university have a very good idea about the development of sport in Cuba and believe that the island is an ideal place to train as physical education teachers. So says second-year student Costa Rican Alexander Saborío: "The motive behind me coming was that many people had told me that Cuba is one of the most developed countries in terms of sport and physical culture, so I took advantage of this opportunity offered by the Cuban government, thanks to Fidel. Im very happy. Ive learnt a lot and compared with students there, we have a higher level. The greatest surprise here was getting to know people from all the other countries because their cultures are very different. The school has very good facilities and the teachers are very good, theyre our friends."

Polo confirms that "students develop in our center in a very favorable environment not just because they are in contact with nature, but also because the staff members strive to provide the best they can so that their 5-year stay at the school is totally focused on academic training."

Enrollment at the higher education center comes through a scholarship program from the Cuban Foreign Ministry and its embassies in the respective countries. The institution is currently looking for students to arrive with a definition of the sporting specialty that they will opt for in line with the interests and necessities of their countries, and also that they are aware of the Sports Problems Bank in their countries in order to work on their future Diploma thesis with that base in mind.

In that context, Paulino Llanos, a second-year student from Colombia, explains that "there are many people who come here without a previously-defined sport for their specialty and decide that during their course. Besides this, there are some who are not athletes and want to become PE teachers."

Llanos also mentioned that in his country there is a shortage of PE teachers and although a degree course exists, it is not given the same level of importance. Morover, the cost of education is very high.

With respect to the motives that lead students to study for a sports degree in Cuba, young Tema Dlamini from the Kingdom of Swaziland, stated that: "In my country, I was interested in studying for a degree that was sports related. Now that Im here, I feel really good and I like it a lot. Although at the beginning, it was a bit difficult for me because of the language, I managed to overcome that and in two months I was speaking the language. My teacher had a lot of influence."

Concerning the schools study plan, she mentioned that: "Some subjects are really hard, such as athletics, but I dont worry about that because I like sport a lot, being in good health and good shape. Sport in my country is not promoted very much. I would like to see it developed more. I cant do it by myself, but with the help of the people I can do it. Im going to be the first person from my country to graduate with this degree and this for me is a great opportunity. Cuba is one of the countries where sport is most developed and for me this is a great opportunity that the Cuban government has given me."

Despite the fact that many students come without any previous sports training, for Vietnamese Linh Nguyen Thy, this course is a step further in the training she began in her country some years ago.

"I studied for a degree at a university in my country and won a prize to come to Cuba to study. At the beginning, the training was very hard but now it is not so bad because we train every day. Its normal now. I studied Sports Pedagogy in Vietnam and had no previous sports training."

Although the school is aimed at training young people from the Third World, it also opens its doors to Cuban students who are selected by different provinces according to their performances. This is the case of young volleyball trainer Yosvany Tabares, who graduated in 2006.

"I had very pleasant experiences thanks to students from a variety of countries. This has left a strong impression on me and served me well in my life. I feel very proud of being Cuban because of the system that my homeland has. From the start, I wanted to be a trainer. And once I got onto the course, they saw my qualities and selected me. At the start, I was really scared but now Ive been a teacher for a semester and I really enjoy it."

About his experience as a teacher, he explained that "the students are pretty satisfied with my performance, and my aim is to transmit to them what I have been taught. Up to now, Ive done fairly well. They are really interested in learning."

Tabares also confided that his challenges are to continue improving himself as a professor or Dr., and to go on having the privilege of giving classes at the university.


Although the teaching staff has a high professional level, the school also relies on the support of students to give classes and contribute to the training of future specialists. Francisco Javier Uribe is in his fifth year and is an athletics trainer.

"This has been a very important experience in terms of my professional career as, independent of the training, I have had many colleagues who have given me lots of ideas through their experiences. The majority of the professionals here are graduates. Some of them have Masters degrees. This raises the level in the school. I am very grateful to President Fidel Castro for such a positive act of solidarity that has given us the chance to educate ourselves. In our countries, it would have cost a lot."

In terms of his prospects as a future graduate, he commented that he feels optimistic because "if we apply the knowledge we have acquired here, very positive results can be achieved for sport in the Third World."

The teams from the International Sports School always participate in the Cuban Olympics and in university competitions at a national level. Internally, the center stages World Cup soccer and basketball competitions, by country.

Currently, the center is attempting to establish wider cooperation links with other universities, both in Cuba and abroad.

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