Sports"You have to break the silence and set limits"

“You have to break the silence and set limits”

The women’s basketball team, one of the most successful Spanish teams of the last decade, with seven consecutive medals in major tournaments between 2013 and 2019, left a trail of pain on its glorious journey. The testimonies of Marta Xargay and Anna Cruz, two of the team’s referents, explaining the physical and psychological damage suffered as a result of the treatment and methods of former coach Lucas Mondelo have reopened these days the debate on the limits that are crossed in the sport of elite, with competitiveness and results as an alibi and defense. “Not everything goes to win and winning cannot justify everything. The medals cannot be so expensive ”, indicated Cruz in his story. “There are limits that must never be crossed and he took me to a very extreme limit. heavyXargay pointed out.


His step forward to tell the story remains an exception despite the growing expression that sports figures make of his psychological damage. Mostly women today. From Simone Biles and Naomi Osaka to Liz Cambage, the Australian basketball player who, a week after the opening of the Games, announced her resignation from competition amid panic attacks. Vital anguish resulting from personal circumstances, from competition pressure, or, as in the cases of Xargay and Cruz, from insane coercive dynamics, claustrophobic environments, and harmful controls. They have taken the key step of breaking the silence.

“Enough! In rhythm, in basketball … That some organism stop this in time, please! ”, Expressed through her social networks the gymnast Almudena Cid after learning the story of psychological abuse suffered by Anna Cruz. “When an athlete arrives at a national team or a club, she should have enough information and support to know what terms and circumstances she should never tolerate in a training room or on a track. And, on the other hand, it is necessary to reinforce the training and pedagogy of the coaches. They have to be supervised so that they cannot roam freely, “explains Cid in conversation with EL PAÍS, in an analysis in which he calls for” external observers and effective protocols “to definitively stop these episodes. “You see many women who do not speak out of fear and you think: what is wrong here?” A reflection that underpins Amaya Valdemoro, emblem of Spanish basketball. “Historically, women have not had the same voice as men and that is a deeply rooted problem in sport as well. We are more afraid when it comes to expressing ourselves and that makes us not set the limits. We need to be able to speak without fear ”, Valdemoro develops. “Women who show our character are seen as a threat. In men it is a personality trait and in our case, rebellion ”, he emphasizes.


The reflection of Cid and Valdemoro is joined by that of the Serbian Sonja Vasic, mvp of the last Eurobasket before closing his professional career in the past Games. “Athletes are so resilient that on many occasions we forget everything that hurts us, physically and mentally. We move forward with fear of expressing our emotions and that makes people see us as robots during our journey ”, analyzes Vasic. “Our defense mechanism as professionals is to forget everything and thus you end up assuming suffering as something normal. Then you see that it shouldn’t be like that ”, explains the Serbian player.

“In its day we accepted certain behaviors as normal, but we evolved as a society and organisms have to update themselves,” Cid retakes. “I never received an insult but I saw how they were insulted. I saw colleagues who were asked to bring coffee or do massages. Shameful and heinous behaviors when you are in the elite, ”says the gymnast. Different scales of abuse and mistreatment that have left many consequences. “We are still hearing unacceptable comments and tolerating humiliating attitudes for fear that expressing ourselves may affect our careers,” Valdemoro reinforces. “Almost all the managers, coaches and directors are men, in basketball there is hardly Elisa Aguilar, and it would be necessary to evolve in that just as society is evolving. Structures must be renewed so that we are heard, ”says Valdemoro. “I always felt, for example, that our medals were second division compared to those of men,” he adds. “It also occurs in men’s sports, but with women, more humiliating terms and methods of humiliation are used. It is not necessary to normalize it or suffer. You have to report it. We have to sleep peacefully ”, completes Cid.

“Respect for the person is not incompatible with high performance and results,” reflects José Manuel Beirán, sports psychologist and former professional basketball player, who sets clear limits on respecting the dignity of the athlete and also focuses on in anticipation. “We should work on prevention and have independent professionals who detect the signals, put structures on alert and stop these situations. The creation of healthy environments for the athlete is essential ”, he adds. Beirán explains how sport still lives with stories of extreme methods assumed as the only way to success. “There are countries that used and still use extreme methods. They have so many athletes that we care that many stay by the wayside. But we as a society have earned limits and respect for values. We cannot say: if 90% of athletes are injured or sunk, the other 10% will come out very strong. Not everything goes, even if those methods guarantee medals as they have been sold to us for decades, ”he says. “Athletes and coaches must have tools to handle pressure and demand,” Beirán completes.


“There is a lack of healthy trainer-athlete pairings. Good behavior must be made more visible ”, adds Almudena Cid, mentioned in the documentary Over the limit, which shows the suffering of the Russian gymnast Margarita Mamum, as one of the valuable testimonies to raise awareness and cites the Israeli gymnast, Linoy Ashram, and her coach, Ayelet Zussman, as examples to follow. “We spend many hours with the coaches and we grow with them. I have spent more hours with my coach than with my family and if my coach had created a dependency for me, I don’t know what I would have become. In sport you have to create autonomy, not dependency. That is the big mistake ”, highlights Cid. “In the elite they teach you to win in extreme conditions. We play with sprains, with fever … We are constantly challenged to vindicate ourselves. That is why psychological work is so necessary ”, adds Valdemoro. “After getting blown up at the Athens Games, I started working with a psychologist. And then I was very criticized for it. They called me crazy on the team. But I knew that it was very good for me, to work my frustrations and my anxiety. Now it is the order of the day to work with a coach or a psychologist, with a nutritionist … Even so, there is still a long way to go and the great change will come when we know how to say this far, set limits and break the silence. When power is not accompanied by fear ”, Valdemoro reviews. “I am a person who can endure a lot. We come from Serbia where our coaching school has always been quite tough, but when you suffer a certain treatment they push you to the limit ”, Vasic reinforces.

That same silence that covers the dynamics of abuse is what limits support for athletes who report it. “When everything is won, it is postponed. In a team there are many ranks and it is likely that, in the case of Xargay Cruz, Jorge Garbajosa did not have all the information. That is why voices are lacking. The teammates and the coaching staff are the ones who know the whole reality of the team. We have to talk. Not to stir up the controversy but so that it does not happen again, ”says Valdemoro. “We must call for courage and unity. Two take the step, but 30 are left behind. If they were all added together, the advance would be gigantic. Strides would be taken instead of steps. The lack of support from the companions makes my heart shrink, ”adds Cid. “Losing the companionship is one of the great risks of this path,” says Vasic. “We already live with a lot of pressure, so you have to learn to also live with the pressure that what you say may annoy. But it is essential to speak to correct unhealthy behaviors and dynamics, ”adds Valdemoro, who, between 2002 and 2004, experienced first-hand an episode with many parallels with that suffered by Anna Cruz and said nothing for fear of reprisals and missing the Olympic Games. Athens. That is why he is now crying out in favor of denouncing these practices.

“These testimonies help a lot because athletes are references and are a mirror for young people and the rest of society. They show us the human side of idols. Any athlete who reaches the highest level is quite strong mentally and has had to overcome many difficulties. But that does not make them invulnerable nor should it make them forget to take care of their mental health ”, indicates Beirán. “These complaints generate scandal and there are people who even say that it is bad for the sport, but no. Everything that is moving forward to achieve healthy environments and coexistence in sport will always be good. The CSD intervened in the rhythmic case and should investigate now as well ”, closes Cid.

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