Cuba: Thirsting For A Swim Programme
Craig Lord
The country that brought us Rodolfo Falcon and Neisser Bent now relies on wild-card development tickets to get its swimmers to the Games

News reaches us that Cuban swimmers Heisy Villarreal and Pedro Medel will take up the two invitations from FINA to participate in the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing.

We wish Villarreal and Medel all the best, but what a sad reflection on Cuba and its lack of interest in running a sound swimming programme. Time was when the likes of Rodolfo Falcon and Neisser Bent went to the Games because they were in the hunt for medals - and won them, taking silver and bronze in the 100m backstroke in the 1996 Olympics.

Development programmes are great but even better is when nations help themselves by building their own futures and not relying on hand-out tickets to the Games. That Cuba needs to be given wild-card tickets to the Watercube is evidence of the failure of the Cuban programme and lack of investment in what is surely a talented pool of youngsters in Fidel's pond.

A trawl of Nick Thierry's work-of-a-lifetime world rankings shows me that the last generation of Cubans to figure in the best 300 in the world across the board swam from 1986 to 1998. Since then? Nada.

It is a message that the Cuban delegates to FINA might wish to ponder - and hang their heads as they do so - as they shine their buttons and don their blazers ready for take-off to China.