Roberto Sotomayor (Madrid, 1977) has been a three-time European champion in the master’s category of athletics and has obtained two runner-ups in the world. His longest career, however, has now been undertaken in politics at the hands of the Minister of Social Rights, Ione Herb. The Madrid athlete, one of his star signings in June, is part of the Podemos Secretary of Sport and Culture.
He is endorsed by a long career as a militant in the youth of the United Left and the Communist Party, and later in Podemos. “I didn’t think about it at all. Her militancy has always been in my DNA. My family is very political. Being a militant is not just going to put up posters, but giving yourself without expecting anything in return “, he acknowledges before his visit to Malaga to participate in a debate on the betting houses.
Sotomayor has launched a very critical campaign against these spaces that roam freely in working-class neighborhoods with low incomes.. This son of a trade union member of Comisiones Obreras and a fervent believer in municipal politics conceives of sport as “a tool that helps to integrate people with few resources and combat racism, xenophobia and machismo.”
The Madrid politician also denounces that investment in public sports facilities, on the tracks and on the courts has stopped. “When I was little there were many public basketball courts. This no longer exists. Instead, there are gyms where individual sports and selfies are worked on.. Something very contrary to what I claim “, she points out.
Are bookmakers today one of the biggest scourges of our society?
It is one of the biggest scourges for young people. Gambling is already the third cause of death by youth suicide. Psychologists, psychiatrists and the large associations that work with gambling say we have a very serious problem and it has been going on for many years. I don’t know whether to classify it as the worst scourge of society, but it is certainly a very big problem that affects young people. We have to get our batteries.
How do you think this dangerous phenomenon should be combated beyond the regulations approved in recent years?
With the will of the ruling class, politicians, autonomies and town halls. This is a matter that is the direct responsibility of the autonomous communities. I would like them to be clear about the problem. Some regional presidents are not in tune with society. We are still hearing that there is no social issue with the game. There is a collusion with the gaming sector. Those responsible themselves should be responsible and implement a prevention plan. There are some autonomies that do not even have it. It is unacceptable. And also come to an agreement with the affected sectors to reach agreements. In the end it is about regulating and restricting in some cases the sector, which is out of control. A red carpet has been laid for it.
Should we legislate directly against vulture funds?
Vulture funds have become the number one enemy of the country. Behind the large operators there are vulture funds that dominate the gaming sector and therefore must be stopped. What is unacceptable is that 90% of schools have a bookmaker within 500 meters. It is not permitted. There are studies that tell us that school performance drops when there is a bookmaker nearby. This is the direct responsibility of the town halls and the autonomous communities.
The City Council recently vetoed a betting house near a school. Do you think that in this city there is a greater danger of gambling addiction?
Malaga is one of the cities with the most bookmakers in all of Andalusia and has a big problem with them. In fact, in the last four years the rates of compulsive gambling have increased by 20% in this autonomous community. This is a piece of information that speaks of the current situation of the game in the region. It is not reasonable for Andalusia to have an Education Minister who criminalizes families and kids who have fallen into gambling.
Food for an athlete like you is key. Very recently a new law has been approved that will limit the advertising of buns, cookies, juices and ice creams. It’s enough?
No, of course it’s not enough. There are many more things to do. It is an important and very pioneering first step in Spain where we have normalized certain eating habits in children. We are one of the countries of the European Union with the highest rate of childhood obesity. Everything is related. It is important that this is regulated and that foods with saturated fat are not sold in schools. You have to raise awareness. 15 years ago, when the Zapatero government banned smoking indoors, we all thought they were taking away our freedom. And today it is unthinkable for us to see a tobacco advertisement on TV or to see a person smoking in a closed space. With food consumption habits we have normalized that kids eat buns and foods with saturated fat. This is not normal.
Don’t you think that people with few resources are going to continue eating poorly?
It’s definitely a class problem. In lower-middle-income neighborhoods, food is worse because they have few financial resources. It is a structural problem that must be addressed. It is still a concern on the part of the Government that citizens eat well because that directly affects the health of the country.
He used to talk about freedom. It reminded me a lot of Isabel Ayuso’s last campaign. You don’t like that beer and bars thing, do you?
It is a fallacious and very hypocritical speech. Politics cannot be reduced to socialism or freedom. There are many more things. In Madrid there are very big problems. More than half a million people are on the hospital waiting list. There is also a problem with nursing homes. Lack of resources and staff. 80% are in the hands of private companies. If we care so much about our elders, how is it possible that we leave them in residences that are in the hands of vulture funds, which are based in tax havens? Ayuso’s speech is very populist. The real problems of the neighbors are not discussed. Instead, such big slogans are unfurled. As if socialism were going to bring us misery and ruin. And it is just the opposite: what has brought us this ruin is this atrocious neoliberalism and this capitalism without reason.
Given what he tells me, I see a very divided left. Without going any further, the coalition formed by PSOE and Podemos in the current Government does not stop clashing on many issues. Shouldn’t they wash dirty laundry at home?
In a coalition government there will always be friction. They are two different styles and two programs that may agree on some things, but not on others. The important thing is to sit down to talk and fulfill the pact. The PSOE tries not to comply with the government pact. We are pushing for it to be fulfilled point by point. Sometimes in politics you have to negotiate and sit down. We have taken politics to the absolute quagmire and we have reviled it.
Everyone lends themselves to the game, not only in Parliament, but also on social networks. You are super active in another morass: Twitter.
I don’t lend myself, I give my opinion. He did not stop being one more militant in the organization. On Twitter there is a lot of trash and insults. But it is still an effective tool to make politics reach the public. There is a disconnect between citizenship and politics. That can not be. Politics is everything. As my mother says, politics is up to the air you breathe. It is not bad to be critical and self-critical of your own organization.
Yolanda Díaz intends to build an alliance “without vetoes or exclusions” capable of leading the space on the left. What does she think?
That seems very good to me. What is at stake right now is the safeguarding of certain democratic principles that have cost a lot to recover in this country. At stake is not simply a way of governing, but democracy itself. All that is welcome to form a progressive platform that is beneficial to citizens, go ahead. I don’t know if it’s negotiated. The figure of Yolanda Díaz is very important for our organization and the left of our country. She has shown on many occasions that she is a person of dialogue and consensus. You have to rule for everyone. The right is out of place with Díaz.
He has been very critical of what has happened to Pablo Iglesias. Shouldn’t he have stayed rowing to the left in the Community of Madrid? Since he talks about there being so many problems…
He can do whatever he wants. He has earned the respect of all the militants and voters. He was free to step aside. He believed that he no longer added to the organization. I am very Pabloite. I went into politics because of him. Let us not forget that what has happened with Pablo Iglesias and his family in this country is inadmissible. There has not been any politician who has gone through the same thing. We have normalized this bullying and demolition every day at the doors of his house. That cannot be allowed in a society that shows its chest from being a full democracy.
He has celebrated his victories by wrapping himself in the Spanish flag. Shouldn’t the left of you learn?
It is very difficult for the left to get the flag out. It is also a country with different historical connotations than any other territory. There has been a dictatorial regime that appropriated the symbols and the flag for more than 50 years. I am left with an image that I saw when I was very small. When the Communist Party of Spain was legalized, Santiago Carrillo posed with the communist and Spanish flag together. That image is unique, of harmony and unity. It has never been difficult for me to get the Spanish flag out. When I win a title I represent a country. Another thing is handling the flag. Defending the homeland is defending quality public services and that there is no poverty. Each one feels the colors of my country as he wants.
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