MEXICO

Mexican sports tsar’s tweet brings him Olympian storm of criticism

Alberto Castillo suggested synchronized divers in Rio were “punished” by International Swimming Federation

Rommel Pacheco and Jahir Ocampo ask to repeat their dive.
Rommel Pacheco and Jahir Ocampo ask to repeat their dive.Al Bello / Getty Images

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Alberto Castillo, Mexico’s sports commissioner, has landed himself in hot water after suggesting that referees at the Rio Olympics punished two Mexican divers in reprisal after his country pulled out of an agreement to host the 2017 world diving competition.

On August 10, Rommel Pacheco and Jahir Ocampo took part in the men’s three meter synchronized diving event in Brazil. Hopes were high back home that the pair would continue Mexico’s success in diving, which has earned the country 13 Olympic medals, the most of any sport in the country’s history.

But after they had performed, the divers complained that a bright light had suddenly been turned on and distracted them just before they launched themselves off the board. Their request to repeat their dive was turned down by referees at the event, and the pair came fifth.

The divers complained that a bright light had suddenly been turned on and distracted them just before they launched themselves off the board

Castillo, named head of the National Commission for Sports and Physical Culture (CONADE) last year after serving as a security commissioner in violence-torn Michoacán, then suggested in a tweet that the pair’s failure to win a synchronized diving medal was the International Diving Federation’s retaliation after Mexico decided not to host the 2017 world diving competition.

“The reprisals for not gifting $15 million: there they are,” tweeted Castillo immediately after the result. But far from garnering support in Mexico, Castillo’s comments have earned him the opprobrium of the media, which has turned on him, first criticizing his decision to take his girlfriend with him to Rio, for not having been more supportive of athletes in the run up to the Games, and because so far Mexico has managed only to win a bronze medal.

Some athletes competing in Rio, such as archer Aída Román, who won a medal in London in 2012, have joined in the criticism of Castillo. On Sunday, Román told reporters that some members of Team Mexico had not received physiotherapy “because somebody else more beloved was ahead of them in line,” a reference to Castillo’s girlfriend.

Friends in high places

Castillo’s rise to power has been helped by his friendship with President Enrique Peña Nieto, who, after a series of high-profile successes, appointed him to disarm the so-called self-defense units in Michoacán that were fighting drug cartels and threatened to become a de facto police force.

In 2015, Peña Nieto appointed him head of CONADE. Meanwhile, the International Swimming Federation, FINA, had imposed a $5 million fine on Mexico for pulling out of hosting the world swimming championships, and said that it would be keeping $9.5 million it had received for awarding the competition to Mexico. The total amount is presumably the $15 million Castillo referred to in his tweet of August 10.

The next day, Carlos Padilla, the president of the Mexican Olympic Committee, issued a statement referring to the accusation that Mexico’s divers had been punished, saying: “It’s disgraceful to say that this could be revenge against Mexico.”

The spotlight was now on Castillo, and Mexican media reported that on August 9, weightlifter Bredni Roque, who came fifth, was wearing a t-shirt with patches darned on it.

Bredni Roque’s patched shirt.
Bredni Roque’s patched shirt.GOH CHAI HIN / AFP

This reminded many people that the previous year, during the world archery championships, Mexican athletes were wearing similarly tattered shirts.

In response, weightlifter Roque said he was ashamed at the patches on his shirt, but that he had no choice, posting on Facebook that neither the Mexican Olympic Committee, nor the Mexican Weightlifting Federation, had given him enough equipment.

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This prompted further media scrutiny, with newspapers and magazines publishing photographs of Castillo kissing his girlfriend while in Rio. Not only was her presence at the Games questioned, but also the fact he was wearing the same Hugo Boss suit worn by Team Mexico at the opening ceremony. Castillo said he had paid for his girlfriend’s trip out of his own pocket.

On Monday, Mexican boxer Misael Rodríguez won his country’s first medal. Soon after, photographs emerged of the fighter and friends on a street corner where they had set up a stand to raise money to pay for Rodríguez’s trip to the world boxing championships in Qatar in 2015.

The next day, leading daily El Universal printed a series of articles and an editorial saying that Castillo had also taken his masseuse to Rio.

English version by Nick Lyne.

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