Top Destinations For Sports Fans
In 776 BC the Ancient Greeks hosted the first recorded Olympic Games in Olympia. Unlike modern day Olympics, the event featured one competition in the nude — a foot race. But despite its simplicity, this first game reveals the vital contribution sports and recreation made to the cultural development and evolution of society.
Some of the most popular sports in the world today were either born out of necessity or became a creative way for people to enhance their customs. Muay Thai, the national sport of Thailand, started as a fighting style the military used to defend against invaders. During the early 1500s when the city of Florence was under siege, the people used their native sport Calcio Storico as an act of protest against the Holy Roman Emperor, Charles V. And in Japan, followers of the Shinto religion believed the sport of Sumo to be a religious rite.
Like food, fashion, and art, sports can reveal pieces of a country's identity providing unique insights into its people and their traditions. And most importantly, in addition to fun, a shared interest in sports can facilitate a genuine connection between people even if they’re from opposite sides of the world.
From the ancient to the modern, the following list provides a roundup of popular sports and sporting events from around the globe.
Muay Thai - Thailand
Recognized as the national sport of Thailand, Muay Thai's origins can be traced back to the battlefields of the Sukhothai Kingdom of the mid 13th century. Due to the constant threat of invasion, defenders of the kingdom used Muay Thai as a tactic in war. Often referred to as the "art of 8 limbs" the practice is meant to transform the fighters fists, elbows, knees, and shins into weapons, especially useful in close combat situations.
Today Muay Thai's popularity has grown exponentially with students and coaches from every corner of the world making pilgrimages to Thailand to train, compete and study this ancient martial art. But you don't need to subject yourself to the grueling training fighters endure to experience the thrill of Muay Thai. In Bangkok, you can watch fights at any of its four stadiums including Rajadamnern, Lumpini and Channel 7 Stadium.
Sumo Wrestling - Japan
Steeped in folklore Sumo, a 1,500-year-old form of Japanese wrestling, is believed to have been both an agricultural ritual and a rite of the Shinto religion. But today it's known as one of the most popular spectators' sports in Japan.
Weighing anywhere between 330 to 450 pounds, the bulky sumo wrestlers face off in a circular ring of compact clay. To win, they must push their opponent out of the rope enclosed circle or knock them off balance causing any part of their body, aside from the soles of the feet, to touch the ground.
Highly ritualized, sumo matches begin with wrestlers slowly rocking from leg to leg and stomping their feet in an effort to cast out evil spirits. Additionally, sacred salt is tossed into the ring as an act of purification believed to appease the Shinto Gods.
Given that individual sumo match lasts less than a minute, tournaments in Japan are held six times a year, for 15 days each.
Lucha Libre - Mexico City
Lucha libre is a popular style of wrestling in Mexico. Much like the WWE in the United States, the sport offers an energized blend of theater, spectacle, and machismo meant to entertain people of all ages and generations. But unlike American wrestling, lucha libre is widely recognized for the brightly colored masks the luchadores (male wrestlers), and luchadoras (female wrestlers) wear.
These iconic masks, introduced to the sport in 1933 were used to conceal the wrestler's identities — both in and outside of the ring. At the end of a match, the loser, was meant to remove his mask, in a moment of surrender and humiliation, revealing his true identity. Mexico's most popular luchador was El Santo, el Enmascarado de Plata or The Saint, the Silver Masked Man. El Santo wore his silver mask for his entire career removing it for the first time, on television, after he retired in 1984.
The most popular venue for lucha libre in Mexico City is the Arena México.
Bossaball - Netherlands
A hybrid of soccer, volleyball, gymnastics, and capoeira, Bossaball is causing sports heads to spin worldwide.
Played on an inflatable court and separated by a traditional volleyball net, two opposing teams bounce, backflip and twirl through the air using any part of their body to keep the ball in play.
Belgian born Filip Eyckmans created Bossaball after living in Spain for ten years. Thanks to the magic of social media, the sport caught its big break after appearing on the beaches of Copacabana during the 2016 Olympics in Rio.
While the majority of Bossaball competitions occur in the Netherlands, the sport is gaining traction at indoor and outdoor music, fitness and sport festivals all over the world.
Army Games International - Russia
In the summer of 2018 Russia hosted its 4th annual Army Games International. This two-week event, also known as the combat Olympics, is where military units from countries such as China, India and Vietnam compete in events that test participants skills in a variety of military disciplines.
Events include service dog races, medical unit relays, field kitchen cook-offs, fighter jet maneuvering and airborne platoon races. This 14-day event culminates with the Tank biathlon. Highly anticipated, the biathlon features tank crews from various countries hoping to earn gold in relay races and grueling obstacle course competitions.
Every year, as the games grow in popularity, the number of participating countries increases which results in the addition of new and exciting events and much fiercer competition.
Hurling - Ireland
Hailed as the fasted field game in the world, Hurling is one of Ireland's native national pastimes.
Dating back to the 13th century BC, the game is played with a short, flat-faced stick called a hurley. Players use techniques found in sports such as field hockey, lacrosse, and baseball to drive, slam or wack the game ball, called a sliotar, into the opposing team's goal.
In recent years, hurling has gained popularity in America with club teams popping up across the country. But if you want to experience the thrill of the game with 80,000 enthusiastic hurling fans by your side Croker Park in Dublin, Ireland is where you need to be.
Eukonkanto - Finland
Every July, husband and wife teams from Poland, Canada, Lithuania, Germany and the UK gather in the quaint Finnish town of Sonkajärvi to compete in the Wife Carrying World Championship.
Wife carrying, or Eukonkanto, has been a sport in Finland since 1992. To compete men must carry their wives, or someone else's, over their shoulders, through a wet and dry obstacle course totaling 253. 5 meters or the equivalent of about three football fields. The husband and wife team with the shortest finishing time wins.
Although the objective is straightforward, the competition is governed by a unique set of rules. All wives must be 17 years of age and weigh at least 100 pounds. If she doesn't the team will have to carry additional weight to make up the difference. Wives cannot be taped to their husbands, and high heels are strictly forbidden. There's no penalty for dropping a wife; you merely pick her back up and keep on moving.
In addition to the first place finishers, awards are given out to the most entertaining couple, the couple with the best outfits as well as the strongest carrier.
Calico Storico Fiorentino - Italy
Henry III of France once described Calico Storico, a form of football dating back to the 16th century, as being "too small to be a real war and too cruel to be a game." And thousands of years later the sport is still characterized as the most brutal the world has ever known.
A combination of wrestling, rugby, and soccer two teams fight to score points by sending the game ball through the opposing team's goal. But in addition to running, blocking and passing, players are allowed to headbutt, elbow, choke and punch their way down the field.
Every June four teams: the Santa Croce, Santa Spirito, Santa Maria Novella and San Giovanni representing four historic neighborhoods in Florence compete in two semi-finals to determine which two teams will battle it out in the final.
The final match is held every year on June 24th at the Piazza Santa Croce in front of the Santa Croce church. Tickets for the final are available several days prior and can be purchased at the local box office.
Caber Tossing - Scotland
A favorite among spectators at the yearly Scottish Highland Games is the ancient Caber Toss. Made from local trees, a caber is a pole measuring anywhere between 16 to 22 feet long and weighing roughly 130 to 180 pounds.
The event kicks off when the caber is presented to the tosser or thrower. Once delivered, he squats down, cups the vertically standing caber in his hands and hoists it up onto his shoulder. After regaining his balance, the tosser runs with the caber, and when he's gathered enough speed, he stops, pops his hips forward and throws the lopsided pole through the air.
The pole must rotate 180 degrees and land precisely at 12 o'clock for a successful toss. The further the pole falls from twelve the more points the thrower loses. Despite the size of these kilt-clad caber tossers, the game is less about speed and strength and all about accuracy.
Caber toss competitions are featured throughout Scotland during the Scottish Highland Games every May through September.
Sepak Takraw - Malaysia
Historically, the origins of Sepaktakraw have been a highly contested issue between several countries in South East Asia who claim it as there own. However, in the 1960s in the wake of years of heated debate, Malaysia and Thailand agreed to unite their shared sport under the name Sepaktakraw. In Malay, sepak means kick, and in Thai takraw means ball.
Today the sport, a mash-up of kung fu, volleyball, and hacky sack, is widely recognized as Malaysia's national sport. Played with a ball traditionally made out of woven rattan, two opposing teams of three players each can use any part of their body, expect their head or hands, to move the ball back and forth across the net.
Given Sepaktakraw's shared history many South East Asian countries have influenced the sport's signature maneuvers. The horse kick serve and sun back spike are products of Thailand while the cartwheel serve originated in Vietnam.
Chess Boxing - Germany
What happens when you combine the game of chess with the sport of boxing? If you guessed chess boxing, you're right.
The inventor of this dynamic sport, which requires both brains and brawn, is the Dutch-born artist and entrepreneur Lepe Rubingh. The first chess boxing match took place in Berlin in 2003 and has since morphed into a global phenomenon.
To compete, players must demonstrate proficiency in both disciplines. A match consists of 11 alternating, three-minute rounds of chess and boxing. To win, a competitor can either knock his opponent out in the ring or defeat him in chess.
Oddly enough the world's first Chess Boxing Champion was the sport's brainchild Lepe Rubingh in 2003. While a knockout in the ring would've been a memorable finish, Rubingh scored the title after his opponent exceeded his chess time limit in the final round.
Curling - Canada
Along with hockey, basketball, and soccer, curling is one of Canada’s most popular spectator's sport
Deceptively simple, curling involves two opposing teams of four sliding a granite stone down a sheet of ice towards a series of concentric circles called the house. Once released, sweepers hover around the stone with curling brooms and furiously scrub at the ice to create a smooth path for the stone. The team who gets the most stones in or closest to the center of the house, known in the curling world as the button, wins.
To immerse yourself completely in the Canadian world of curling, attend the Tim Hortons Brier annual curling championship for men, or the Scotties Tournament of Hearts, the yearly championship event for women.