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Kent's Sports Blog: How Sports Saves Central America

| BY Kent McDill

In Nicaragua, the International Baseball Association is building the country’s first baseball academy, responding to the overwhelming love of the game among Nicaraguans.

In Haiti, where most of the country remains unrepaired from the hurricane a couple of years ago, intense basketball tournaments are held and the two top professional teams vie for the country’s title every year. In some places in Haiti, the safest place to be is on a basketball court.

In the recent FIFA World Cup, the most successful team from the CONCACAF region (North and Central America and the Caribbean) in the tournament was Costa Rica, which made it to the quarterfinals of the tournament in stunningly impressive fashion. They outperformed both the United States and Mexico, the region’s two powerhouses.

The Dominican Republic and Cuba remain the two greatest feeding grounds for Major League Baseball talent. The performance of Cuban-born Jose Abreu in Chicago in his rookie season has redoubled efforts of baseball agents to find talent in that part of the world.

The value of sports is a hot button topic around the world. While some find it abhorrent that so much time and money is spent on sports, and point to the various evils that over-indulgent sports fans can visit upon foes and innocents, there are hundreds of examples of how sports can transform a community, save a life, or turn an undirected youth into a person with a goal and a purpose in life.

“Sports has the power to change the world,’’ said Nelson Mandela. It has the power to inspire, it has the power to unite people in a way that little else does. It speaks to youth in a language they understand.”

In Central America, the power of sport is undeniable. It is, unfortunately, seen as a way to get out of Central America.

Equally unfortunate is that some children can’t wait for sports to provide benefit. The thousands upon thousands of illegal immigrants pouring into the United States this summer are coming from Central American countries where living conditions are so bad, parents put their children on difficult treks towards an inhospitable United States in hopes they can find a way out of their unfortunate lifestyles.

Most Central American countries are poor, ridden with drug traffickers, and either recovering from violent aggressiveness (like in Nicaragua following its revolution) or still suffering from a constant fear of violence. The one area of interest and development that always seems to have the support of both the government and the public is sports. just did a comprehensive story about the growth of basketball in Haiti, where there are only four basketball courts with roofs on them, two outdoor courts, and all the playing surfaces are made on concrete. Yet there are two professional basketball leagues in a country where 80 percent of the population lives on $2 a day and more than 150,000 were killed in the hurricanes of 2010. Haitians are getting basketball scholarships in universities in the United States.

Meanwhile, soccer continues to grow in most Central American countries and is seen as a way to make a statement that can be heard around the world. Not only did Costa Rica perform admirably on the World Cup stage, Honduras made the tournament (but did not play well in its Group stage matches) while Panama and Jamaica were in the region’s final Group of Six and know they can challenge again when World Cup qualifying begins in 2016.

"There’s not a lot of positive news [in Central America], which is why Costa Rica’s remarkable performance gives the region something to cheer about,” said Michael Shifter, president of the Inter-American Dialogue.

There are all manner of investment opportunities in Central America, and those countries are welcoming wealthy American retirees like never before. Special rules are in place for Americans who want to set up residence in many Central America countries, including Belize.

If anything can make life tolerable in war-torn and violent Central American countries, perhaps it is sports that can do the trick. It is something to consider for American investors who know just how important sports is in economically successful countries such as ours.