'The Revolutionary Tracksuit': Hugo Chavez Dresses for Victory

He wears one. Castro wears one. Is it a political statement?


Jorge Silva/Reuters

As Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez celebrates 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, have been 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.
​​After decades of his signature olive-green military uniform, Cuban leader and longtime ally of Chavez, 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, Spanish 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 sporting 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. 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" ideal. 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."

In a manner reminiscent of how top athletes wear the products of sports clothing companies 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.

​​As Andrew McKie wrote for The Daily Telegraph in 2008, "... 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.

Copyright (c) 2012. RFE/RL, Inc. Reprinted with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave., N.W. Washington DC 20036.