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Soccer Wins Over New Generation Of Fans In Cuba


Before President Obama's trip to Argentina this week, he capped off his historic visit to Cuba by taking in the island's national sport, baseball. It was a matchup between two former foes - Cuba's national team and the Tampa Bay Rays. Baseball might be as Cuban as cigars and rum, but the game is losing popularity. Soccer is winning-over new fans and exposing a generation gap, as NPR's Carrie Kahn reports.

CARRIE KAHN, BYLINE: On the outskirts of Havana, two teams are locked in a hard-fought game on a weathered baseball field.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: (Foreign language spoken).

KAHN: All the action, though, is in left and center field, which is now host to a soccer game. Move over, baseball - soccer has come to Cuba in a big way. In recent years at local parks and plazas, you see less and less of the pelota - or, baseball - as the national sport is affectionately called.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: (Foreign language spoken).

KAHN: As a coach puts these under-10 soccer players through a series of drills on the field, a few dads look on.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: (Foreign language spoken).

KAHN: One of them, Jorge Luis Obret, says soccer is booming in Cuba. When he was a kid, it was all baseball. But with one soccer ball, he says, 15 to 20 guys can play. In baseball, you need a lot more.

JORGE LUIS OBRET: (Foreign language spoken).

KAHN: "You need bats, gloves, a lot of stuff. It's cheaper to play soccer," he says. And a slew of deflections of Cuban stars has depleted the national baseball team. Twenty-eight Cuban-born players now fill the 2016 major league baseball roster. Adding to the soccer fervor, Cuban TV now plays soccer matches. T-shirts of Real, Madrid, Barcelona, and other soccer clubs are seen all over the island, something unheard of just five years ago. Conrado Dimsa Aguayis sports a blue-and-white jersey of the Argentine national team while out strolling in Havana with his girlfriend.

CONRADO DIMSA AGUAYIS: (Foreign language spoken).

KAHN: He says he'd rather play baseball but it's easier to find a soccer game to join. Younger Cubans are only interested in soccer, he adds. Like 14-year-old Miguel Marzocintra, who's at a Havana pickup game.

MIGUEL MARZOCINTRA: (Foreign language spoken).

UNIDENTIFIED BOY: (Foreign language spoken).

MIGUEL: (Foreign language spoken).

KAHN: Soccer is more active. He says, "in baseball, you just stand around and it's boring." This generation gap isn't just in sports. Tonight the Rolling Stones give a free concert in Havana. While older Cubans know the British legends well, younger Cubans like these soccer-happy teens are clueless.

Los Rolling Stones?

And give that ubiquitous teenage shoulder shrug no when pressed. But amidst Cuba's changing times, The Stones and baseball still bring satisfaction to many of the island's old-timers.


THE ROLLING STONES: (Singing) I can't get no satisfaction.

KAHN: Carrie Kahn, NPR News, Havana.


THE ROLLING STONES: (Singing) I can't get no satisfaction 'cause I try, and I try, and I try and I try. I can't get no, I can't get no... Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.