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The (Track) Suit Makes The Man


President Hugo Chavez, sporting his red tracksuit, embraces a Venezuelan flag while speaking to supporters after receiving news of his reelection on October 7.

President Hugo Chavez, sporting his red tracksuit, embraces a Venezuelan flag while speaking to supporters after receiving news of his reelection on October 7.

As Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez celebrated winning a new term in office, images of the South American populist leader, clad in his traditional red tracksuit and triumphantly holding his arms aloft, were plastered all over international newswires.

Chavez’s penchant for tracksuits is nothing new. Some of his more memorable athletic garb includes his all-time favorite scarlet tracksuit (a tribute to the red flag of socialism) and his tracksuit bearing the yellow, red, and blue colors of the Venezuelan flag.

Chavez is certainly not the only leader to take the humble tracksuit for a run in the political sphere.

Fidel Castro and Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez (right) in their tracksuits.

Fidel Castro and Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez (right) in their tracksuits.

After decades of his signature olive-green military uniform, Cuban leader and longtime Chavez ally Fidel Castro switched over to tracksuits in 2006, the same year he transferred power to his brother, Raul Castro, due to his ailing health.

Despite often being derided as the height of bad taste or even a poor fashion statement, the tracksuit may in fact be seen as a political statement.

Two years ago, blogger and editor of the Spanish daily "El Pais" Antonio (Tono) Fraguas coined the phrase “el chandalismo revolucionario,” (Spanish for “the revolutionary tracksuit”) to describe the fondness of certain left-wing leaders for sports apparel.

Originally posted on his blog “La Fragua,” the Spanish journalist offered a few theories as to why the tracksuit has become the new formal attire for leaders like Chavez and Fidel Castro.

Chavez takes the stage in his blue tracksuit during a campaign rally in Barquisimeto on October 2.

Chavez takes the stage in his blue tracksuit during a campaign rally in Barquisimeto on October 2.

His theories on “the revolutionary tracksuit” range from a populist explanation, which suggests that the goal is to present the leader as "just another ordinary guy," to the notion that it portrays the relevant politician in an idyllic manner as someone who is as “fit as an athlete.”

Fraguas concludes with the theory that leaders may have begun wearing the tracksuit because it mirrors their style of rule, i.e. “my house (country), my rules.”

The Adidas Man

In a manner reminiscent of how top athletes wear the products of sportswear manufacturers who sponsor them, for the past six years Fidel Castro has been photographed in Adidas, Fila, Puma, and Nike tracksuits, raising questions as to why the anti-imperialist former president, whose country has been under an economic embargo for the past 50 years, wears a personalized Adidas sweatsuit with his name embroidered on it.

Clad in his Adidas tracksuit, Fidel Castro (right) meets with Iranian President Mahmud Ahmadinejad in Havana on January 11.

Clad in his Adidas tracksuit, Fidel Castro (right) meets with Iranian President Mahmud Ahmadinejad in Havana on January 11.

Andrew McKie wrote for "The Daily Telegraph" in 2008 that “...Fidel seems to favour Adidas tracksuits which appear to be made of a cloth so rich in manmade fibres that downtown Havana could probably be powered off the static electricity they generate.”

Chavez had better stay away from those Adidas-branded tracksuits. After all, in 2007 he was the one who told Castro to drop the tracksuit and go back to his military uniform.

-- Deana Kjuka

About This Blog

Written by RFE/RL editors and correspondents, Transmission serves up news, comment, and the odd silly dictator story. While our primary concern is with foreign policy, Transmission is also a place for the ideas -- some serious, some irreverent -- that bubble up from our bureaus. The name recognizes RFE/RL's role as a surrogate broadcaster to places without free media. You can write us at transmission+rferl.org

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