Young athletes committed to change El Salvador's status quo in sports

Alabi's Facebook account

"> Josselyn Alabi, 23, is the first SUP athlete from El Salvador. Source: Alabi's Facebook account

Josselyn Alabi, 23, is the first SUP athlete from El Salvador. Source: Alabi's Facebook account

Are sports a means of social development in El Salvador? Could they be a preventive measure for violence? Can it promote unity in the country? It is hard to tell when INDES, the public governing body for all sports federations in El Salvador, has been cutting funds to many of the sports associations in the months leading to the Olympics in Rio 2016.

Adriana Escobar, 23, a rowing athlete who was recently a finalist in the World Rowing championship in the Netherlands, shared with GYV her concern over INDES’ decision to defund the rowing federation. “Sport is a sector that needs more investment from the government,” Escobar said. “This year, INDES decided to defund the rowing federation; they basically decided to put an end to it. And what saddened me most was that they did it in such an important year (Rio Olympics 2016). Luckily, El Salvador’s Olympic Committee stood up for us; we showed them we have the passion, and here we are.”

According to local daily El Diario de Hoy, INDES has a budget of $12.4 million for the year 2016 and $6 million are destined to 40 federations and 4 smaller sports organizations. The amount each organization receives depends on their results and efficiency. While there is money on the table, the distribution of funds has become more of a political statement and less of a distribution based on merit.

Many have been vocal about INDES President Jorge Quezada’s statement referring to the federation of skydiving and golf. He stated that the tax payers’ money shouldn’t be used to fund “hobbies” and that federations with a small number of athletes shouldn’t receive a big amount of money. This is the case of the rowing federation that has 14 athletes, a small number compared to the soccer federation.

Naturally, rowing requires investment in equipment and transportation, as athletes travel every morning to Ilopango Lake for their training sessions. However, INDES has decided to defund the rowing federation and has allocated $550,000 to the soccer federation, despite its athletes’ poor performance the year before.

“Perhaps if the government had supported us, things would have been changed,” Escobar said. “But our reality is different, and we work with what we have.”

Despite this situation, Adriana Escobar is determined to develop sports in El Salvador by excelling in local and international competitions, and she knows that in this, she’s not alone.

Something was missing

Josselyn Alabi, 23, the first Salvadorian athlete in StandUp Paddle (SUP) spoke to Global Young Voices about her dream of making a professional career out of SUP. Sports for Josselyn have always been part of her life. During her primary and high school years Alabi’s schedule was a combination of school work and sport training. She joined her school’s basketball team and for a short period of time she trained karate. Once university began, Josselyn was searching for a more demanding sport and decided to leave the university’s basketball team and join the track and field federation with Adriana Escobar.

Adriana Escobar, 23, competing in the World Rowing championship in the Netherlands. Credit: The World Rowing championship Source: World Rowing Facebook page

Adriana Escobar, 23, competing in the World Rowing championship in the Netherlands. Credit: The World Rowing championship
Source: World Rowing Facebook page

Meanwhile Adriana Escobar had abandoned sports in the last two years of her high school studies. At different times during her primary and elementary education, Escobar had practice swimming, gymnastics, tennis, volleyball and track and field before joining the rowing federation and she felt that something was missing. “When I stop playing sports I was very sad and depressed... as if I was out of place, you know? And then [Josselyn] was definitely a little angel!”

In 2011, Escobar and Alabi decided to move from the track and field federation to the rowing federation and this is when all the fun began. “I had my reason to get up every day, even if sometimes it was a bit of a challenge; I wake up at 4:30 a.m. every day... [and] I love being where I am now” said Adriana Escobar. Josselyn on the other hand was very satisfied with the intense training required by this sport. “I was looking for a more demanding sport and rowing was all about that. In 2012, I attended a competition in Peru and won bronze; I was very happy with the results.” While things were set for Escobar, Josselyn had yet to find her true passion.

It was at her training sessions in Ilopango Lake where Josselyn got to meet SUP enthusiasts. She made contact with one of them and decided to give it a try; after all, her training in rowing gave her an advantage with the oars. In early 2013, Alabi switch her boat for a paddle board and only after eight months of training she went back to Peru and won bronze again but this time in SUP. “[Once in Peru] I lost the first heat; I was very nervous and felt very much under pressure.” Her coach had agreed to train her at no cost under the condition of winning medals. “For the last heat, I decided to make a change of attitude, I decided not to worry and to compete for fun. The waves were big and that encouraged me, but I still need more points. I prayed for a wave! And in the last 50 seconds a grabbed a huge wave and that earned me the 3rd place. It was great because thanks to that achievement I managed to secure Coca Cola as a sponsor.”  

Paving the way for future generations

Both are convinced that sports are a great means to bring social development. Athletes are points of reference for young people and through their good example they can foster values in society. “You can 'take' sportsmanship everywhere. You apply it into family life, work life; it helps you to have good attitude in front of difficulties; it makes you grow in humility, just like when you hold yourself from disputing small faults in sports, and it gives meaning and a purpose to your life,” Josselyn Alabi said.  

Adriana Escobar added that athletes are to transform the status quo of sports in El Salvador. “Many people expected a lot of the athletes who attended Rio. But they [the athletes] weren’t going just for medals; I know they were going for something more important. They want to pave the way for those who come behind them; not only in the disciplines each of them represent, but in all those in which El Salvador is involved.”

It is 2016 and these young athletes are determined to win more medals, and to leave El Salvador’s name in high esteem wherever they go. Yet it is not glory what they look for; their most important goal is to pave the way for those that will come after. Making a career out of sports is not an option in El Salvador, and this is something they are determined to change. Quoting the Baron of Coubertin, “The Olympic spirit is neither the property of one race nor of one age," Escobar said. “We must use sports as means of unity for the country; this is what El Salvador needs the most.”

Cover credit: Sergio Algeri/GYV