On the Mark: Mexican Athletes Deserve Better Than Ana Guevara
By MARK LORENZANA
Does winning a silver medal in the Olympics almost two decades ago exempt you from facing a myriad of controversies in your job as head of Mexico’s National Commission for Physical Culture and Sport (Conade)?
That question might be on a lot of minds right now, especially in the wake of the latest controversy that former Mexican track-and-field athlete and current Conade head Ana Guevera has stirred up when the Mexican artistic swimming team bagged three golds and a bronze in the recently concluded World Aquatics Artistic Swimming World Cup 2023 in Egypt — despite the athletes suffering from budget cuts.
With its medal haul, the Mexican team finished second only to Spain, an impressive feat considering its members had to resort to selling swimsuits and towels to pay for their preparations for the tournament after Guevara cut their funding. Mexican businessman Carlos Slim covered all of the athletes’ expenses — including plane tickets and accommodation — so they could travel to Egypt.
Guevara washed her hands of the whole thing, blaming the Miscellaneous Tax Resolution for 2023, which was published in Dec. 27, 2022, in the National Gazette of the Federation for the funding cuts, saying that “it is impossible to continue giving financial support to Mexican swimmers while the Stabilizing Committee persists, since it is a foreign body and not legally recognized by the National Department of Physical Culture and Sport (Sinade).”
Those in the Mexican sports community, however, believe that Guevara cut the swimmers’ funding in retaliation for the athletes’ decision to remain neutral after the global governing body World Aquatics (formerly known as FINA) did not recognize Kiril Todorov, the president of the Mexican Swimming Federation (FMN), who is facing a trial for alleged embezzlement.
What’s worse, Guevara proceeded to mock the members of the artistic swimming team for selling bathing suits and towels — among other fundraising activities — so they could train and travel to their tournaments.
“For me, let them sell panties, bathing suits, Avon or Tupperware,” said the Conade head, and then proceeded to accuse the athletes of being “debtors.”
“They and their trainers are indebted. We have given them 40 million pesos, and they have not justified it,” said Guevara, in an interview on W Radio.
Needless to say, Guevara’s cutting of the swimming team’s budget and her subsequent combative stance earned swift backlash.
“We thought that having someone like Ana Gabriela Guevara in charge of the Conade was going to be the best solution to solve the problems of athletes in Mexico, but how wrong we were,” said Uno TV journalist Pamela Cerdeira in her Friday, May 19, video column.
Cerdeira said Guevara failed not only in the most important thing, which is making athletes the priority at all costs, but also in the transparent management of Conade and in playing the victim instead of going out and solving the athletes’ problems.
“The refusal to go out and congratulate them, but also going out to mock them — saying that they deserve to sell panties, Tupperware or whatever — is discriminatory and insulting to all women who are dedicated to selling these products to be able to support their families, and there are many of them in the country,” said Cerdeira.
For his part, Carlos Hermosillo, former Conade director, said that everything the government sports agency does should be dedicated to the athletes — so they can focus 100 percent on competing and not worry about external issues.
“You have to make things easier for the athletes, who have to worry only about competing and nothing else,” said Hermosillo, who also played professional soccer for 18 years, in an interview with W Deportes. “It is always shameful not to support an athlete.”
And with the Conade and Guevara seemingly hellbent on not extending any financial support to the members of the Mexican artistic swimming team, other sponsors have stepped up.
Aeroméxico, the country’s flagship airline, offered to take two members of the Mexican artistic team to the World Championships in Japan this summer so they could compete — after World Aquatics President Husain Al-Musallam likewise sent a message to the swimmers in April of this year, assuring them that the organization would support them.
Tupperware also offered to support the members of the swimming team in a statement on Friday through the official Tupperware Mexico Twitter account.
“Hello Jessica Sobrino, Glenda Inzunzac, Pamela Toscano and team, we want to hear from you. Our doors are open. Let’s find ways to work together and help more incredible Mexicans like you achieve your dreams,” said the tweet.
For Sobrino, one of the artistic swimmers, there is nothing wrong with selling swimsuits and towels to supplement their needs. In an interview with Latinus, she told journalist Carlos Loret de Mola that there are many women in Mexico who sell Tupperware and Avon to support their families, and this should not be seen as humiliating.
“I find them (Guevara’s statements) surprising. I don’t know how to react to them,” said Sobrino. “What we are trying to do is show that Mexican women are valuable, strong and empowered. Many women sell Tupperware and Avon in their homes to support their family, and it does not feel humiliating to us.”
Guevara was appointed by Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador (AMLO) in 2018 to the Conade post after what he described as “a thoughtful decision.”
“It was a thoughtful decision appointing Ana Guevara (to the Conade post),” said López Obrador at that time. “It was a thoughtful decision. We analyzed it and decided that it was necessary for an athlete, an Olympic medalist, the pride of our nation, to hold the post of Conade head.”
AMLO likewise came to Guevara’s rescue amid the recent controversy with the Mexican artistic swimming team, blaming the media — which he called “corrupt” and accused of “manipulation” — instead of addressing the issue of the lack of support for the team.
But going back to the question posed at the beginning of this article: Does winning a medal in the Olympics — and, while we’re at it, having the support of your boss — excuse you from doing a less-than-stellar job as head of the Conade, especially a job as critical as making sure Mexican athletes can compete at the highest level, “without worrying about external issues,” as former Conade director and athlete Carlos Hermosillo said himself?
One thing’s for sure, though: Mexican athletes deserve better than Ana Guevara.