Ana Guevara, on behalf of the Mexican government, promised her country 10 medals in Tokyo 2020, but did not deliver, and that failure must have consequences, both for the National Commission of Physical Culture and Sport, which she directs, and for Mexican sport in general.
A historic failure
The Mexican delegation arrived at Tokyo 2020 with one of the largest contingents in its history (161 athletes) and with the expectation of achieving its best participation of all time: 10 medals, which would surpass the 9 obtained in the Mexico City Games, in a now distant 1968.
However, the Olympic Games brought about a very different reality from the one that Ana Guevara, the former athlete who is now in charge of the government’s sports strategy, had envisioned. Mexico won only four medals (and all of them bronze), signing its worst Olympic participation in the last 25 years, surpassed by most Latin American countries, including Ecuador, Colombia, Venezuela and, of course, Brazil.
The causes of the failure include capricious management in many federations, the decision to send uncompetitive and uncommitted teams (as happened for example in the case of baseball, which lost all its games in a grotesque performance) and even the mismanagement of the pressure that left several Mexican athletes out of the medal standings in sports such as golf and archery.
However, more for the worse than for the better, everything that happened in Tokyo has been imprinted in history, now the priority must move towards how to correct the path towards the Olympic Games in Paris in 2024 and Los Angeles in 2028, where (considering the huge Mexican community) Mexico will feel at home.
Ana Guevara must leave
President López Obrador placed Ana Gabriela Guevara as head of CONADE because she was in her own right one of the most successful Mexican sportswomen, who crowned with a silver medal in the 400 meters at the 2004 Olympic Games in Athens. Yes, she was a great athlete, but as a leader she has been an absolute failure.
Since her arrival, the National Commission of Physical Culture and Sports has been involved in constant corruption scandals and administrative mismanagement, in addition to eliminating the trust fund that guaranteed scholarships to Mexican medalists. On the other hand, both CONADE and most of the federations were overwhelmed by the pandemic and were unable to articulate a strategy for Mexican athletes to continue preparing in adequate conditions.
The consequences are plain to see: the same Mexican generation that in the Pan American Games of Lima 2019 (still with the inertia of previous governments) had widely surpassed Canada and the rest of the continent (with the exception of the United States and Brazil), collapsed in Tokyo. In view of the dismal results, Ana Guevara has to go. Such is the size of her failure.
Three keys for Mexico to win 10 medals at the Olympics
It is necessary to promote transparency in the federations. For decades Mexican sports federations have been a black hole of corruption and cronyism. In many of them the story is very similar: a group of people take control of the federation, alter the internal mechanisms to consolidate their power and then focus on living off it, instead of promoting the sport they supposedly represent.
In some cases they even actively discourage the practice of that sport, calculating that the fewer people who practice it, the easier it will be for them to maintain control of “their” federation. How to solve this problem? First of all, with transparency regarding the internal functioning of the federations (and especially regarding the renewal of their leaders).
The sad truth is that the federations do whatever they want because nobody cares; Mexicans turn to their Olympic sports only for a couple of weeks every four years, and once the games are over, they forget about them. To break the inertia of corruption it is necessary to break the disinterest and bring to light what the federations are doing throughout the Olympic cycle.
A true culture of sport must be promoted, taking advantage of physical education classes and directing young people to a system of leagues, which facilitates the detection of talent and allows them to be empowered towards high performance on a much broader scale.
For decades Mexican “physical education” consisted (in most cases) of a teacher with notorious signs of obesity, who would make students run around the playground to tire them out.
Money must be invested, it’s as simple as that. It is shameful that Mexico does not have a single adequate space in the entire country for the practice of high-level artistic gymnastics, as confirmed by gymnast Alexa Moreno, who had to buy her own training apparatus (and still achieved fourth place at the Olympics in the vault).
There are many other horror stories throughout Olympic sport, from facilities that cannot be used because the light bulbs have not been changed, to courts in poor condition, lack of uniforms and a multitude of small details that could be solved almost immediately. No matter how much austerity there is, Mexico does have the money, in the private sector and in the public budget, to provide decent conditions for its high performance athletes.
Now, as far as the private sector is concerned, corporate sponsorship is a great support for high-performance athletes, but the next step is missing: a greater involvement of large companies in the development of leagues and the early detection of local talent.
This absurdity is being corrected. There are more and more physical education teachers who do know their subject. Now the next step must be taken jointly by schools and parents, taking advantage of physical education classes so that students learn about Olympic sports and encourage the participation of these students in sports leagues that in turn are monitored by federations with transparency in their activities.
It is outrageous that Mexico is so weak in sports such as basketball, volleyball, tennis and even swimming, despite the fact that there are thousands of tournaments and teams throughout the country. In those cases people already know and practice the sport, but there is a lack of follow up to take more people from a local league to a high performance level.
The goal should be Brazil
In the Tokyo Olympics, the Brazilian delegation won 21 medals, including 7 gold medals.
Considering the similarity of the economies and circumstances of both countries, Brazil is a very reasonable benchmark for what Mexican sport can achieve, and that should be the medium-term goal, especially considering that the Los Angeles 2028 Olympics will be basically at home.
However, for now the first goal could be the 10 medals promised by Ana Guevara and the recipe to achieve them is not mysterious, it is evident. The difficult part will be to apply it.