Mexico’s only Olympic medalist so far had to panhandle to get to Rio

Credit where credit is due.
Credit where credit is due.
Image: Reuters/Peter Cziborra
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Boxer Misael Rodríguez became a national hero in Mexico after securing his country’s first—and so far only—Olympic medal during the Rio 2016 games.

Less than a year ago, he was hitting bus riders for spare change to gather funds to qualify for the Olympics. He got the money—and on Monday he made it (link in Spanish) to the semi-finals. That’s a guaranteed bronze medal, unless he defeats Uzbek fighter Bektemir Melikuziev later today (Aug. 18) to win silver or gold in the finals.

Rodríguez had to panhandle not because Mexico is broke, but because of a power struggle between the federal agency that oversees sports, known as CONADE for its Spanish acronym, and the country’s various sport federations.

The spat stems from an anti-corruption crusade started by CONADE’s director, former state prosecutor Alfredo Castillo, last year. Alleging irregularities (Spanish), his agency cut funding (Spanish) to some of the sport federations. But the strategy hasn’t cleaned Mexico’s undeniably flawed sports system, commentators say (Spanish). Instead, it’s resulting in one of Mexico’s most embarrassing Olympic performances in years. And that’s not just because of the dearth of medals.

Weightlifter Bredni Roque had to compete in his regular workout gear, with tape covering its non-sanctioned brands, because the official uniform he received was too big. “I came out with the shame that all of Mexico would see me full of patches,” he wrote on Facebook (Spanish.)

Mexico’s Olympic golfer, Rodolfo Cazaubón, told ESPN he was covering his own expenses and didn’t get any help to chase after his golf clubs when they didn’t arrive with his luggage. “Without equipment, it’s complicated to compete,” he said.

More than 15,000 people have signed a petition demanding Castillo’s removal.

Castillo didn’t help himself or CONADE’s cause by showing up to the opening ceremony with a companion (Spanish) dressed in the same uniform that Mexico’s female athletes wore to the parade of nations.

Castillo has said (Spanish) his partner used the official outfit because she was representing him and Mexico.

But more mortifying for many Mexicans is the fact that the country’s sole medal winner so far had to pass around a can for donations and, according to the head of the boxing federation (Spanish), wore a uniform bought on credit to boot.

CONADE said a review of the boxing federation revealed “technical, methodological and administrative failures,” pointing out that Mexico hadn’t won an Olympic boxing medal in 16 years. After successfully stripping the boxing federation of its official status last year, it directly gave its Olympic athletes (Spanish) nearly 1.5 million pesos ($83,000), in 2016, it added.

Was that enough for CONADE and Castillo to take any credit for Rodríguez’s medal? The boxing federation certainly doesn’t think so, and said as much on Facebook.

The victorious boxer is not pointing fingers though, at least not publicly. News agency EFE quotes Rodríguez (Spanish) as saying, “Medals after begging taste sweeter.”