Must-see sports around the world
If you love sport as much as you love travelling then here you have some tips when and where to go.
Aussie Rules Football, Australia
Contrary to what the name implies, Aussie Rules is not soccer and it’s not rugby. Its closest sporting relation is Gaelic Football in Ireland, but few people know much about that either. It’s often known as AFL, referring to the Australian Football League, the national and top-level of the sport. Every weekend in towns and cities around the country, footy fans converge on their local ground. Melbourne is the centre of AFL action, hosting most of the games each weekend, but AFL matches are also played in Perth, Adelaide, Sydney and in Brisbane and the Gold Coast. The play can be fast and the rules a little hard to follow for a beginner, but any fan will passionately fill you in on the game itself and why their team is best. Be prepared to spend 100 minutes cheering, drinking, shouting and regularly questioning umpiring decisions. As well as AFL, Aussie Rules is played at state, regional and local levels so if you just want to see the sport and don’t care about the major league it’s easy to find a game.
Season: AFL pre-season from February, premiership season March to September. Games are held Friday night to Sunday afternoon, with some exceptions.
Tickets: General admission tickets start at about $20.
Ice hockey, Canada
Ice hockey is popular in Europe and North America, but it dominates the Canadian sporting scene. (Drop the “ice” if you want to sound like a local.) The sport is taken very seriously there – a good example is the Stanley Cup riots in Vancouver? The game is very, very fast, but easy enough to follow. It’s also rough. Very, very rough. Players frequently get slammed into the see-through barrier separating the crowd from the ice – much to the fan’s enjoyment – and the referees are happy to let a good brawl sort itself out – again, to the fan’s enjoyment. The National Hockey League (NHL) is the big league and runs in Canada and the United States.
Season: October to April, followed by Stanley Cup play-offs. Games are played mid-week and on weekends.
Tickets: Buy online or at the stadium. Tickets to NHL games can be hard to get and expensive (about $60-70 for the cheap seats), so consider a junior league game, such as the Western Hockey League. Front row tickets go for about $25 and there are usually more fights on the ice.
It’s a sport with a training regime like no other. What other sport requires its athletes to eat massive pots of chicken and vegetable stew (chankonabe) to get in shape? Sumo is steeped in tradition from the diet, lifestyle, hair style and attire of the wrestlers, to the ceremony and ritual surrounding the competition. Sumo is Japan’s national sport, although some wrestlers are from other countries including Bulgaria, Mongolia and Samoa. Watching sumo live can be difficult as there are only six Grand Sumo tournaments each year – three of which are held in Ryōgoku in Tokyo. While the competition runs all day, the best time to watch is in the afternoon. The sport itself is simple: the first wrestler to push his opponent outside the ring, or to make any part of his opponent’s body other than the feet touch the floor, wins! Spectators can rent radios to follow the commentary. There is an English channel in the afternoons.
Season: January, May, and September (Tokyo), March (Osaka), July (Nagoya) and November (Fukuoka). Each tournament lasts 15 days.
Tickets: Buy online or at the stadium. General admission seats start at 2000yen ($20) and ringside seats at 14,000 yen ($150). General admissions tickets for Tokyo’s Ryōgoku Kokugikan are only available in person on the day, but go very early. You can always buy your ticket in the morning and return for the afternoon session.
Not to be confused with curling (the slow and tedious winter sport) hurling is fast, fun and Irish! Take aspects of about 15 other sports including baseball, lacrosse, Gaelic football and hockey and what do you get? Hurling. Players use a wooden stick (a hurley) to hit a ball (sliotar) around the field and ultimately between the goalposts. It’s said to be one of the fastest field sports and despite the speed and associated danger of being struck with either the hurley or the sliotar, helmets have only been compulsory in the top league for the last three years (the game has been played for more than 3000). One of the most endearing aspects of this game is the “professional” players, aren’t professional at all. Even the top league remains an amateur competition and the players aren’t paid.
Season: The main competition, the All-Ireland Senior Hurling Championship, runs from May to September. Games are usually played on the weekend.
Tickets: Entry to local games is usually free. Tickets to All-Ireland Senior Hurling Championship games are available online or at SuperValu stores around Ireland starting at about €10-15 ($13-20).
Basketball, United States
Think of some of the biggest names in basketball such as Michael Jordon, Magic Johnson, LeBron James and Shaquille O’Neal. They are all American. Basketball may be played all over the world, but America’s National Basketball Association (NBA) is where it’s at. The players are some of the world’s highest paid sportsmen. The live games are about 20% sport and 80% entertainment with music, cheerleaders and half-time competitions. The most well-known venue is Madison Square Garden, home of the New York Knicks, but there are 30 teams (including one based in Toronto in Canada) so lots of options to catch a game somewhere in the country.
Season: October to April, followed by play-offs. Games are played mid-week and on weekends.
Tickets: Tickets can be as cheap as $10.