Sports and Travel

While Red Sox fans venerate Fenway Park, the same can be said of FC Barcelona fans and Camp Nou. As any college football fan in the SEC will tell you, the rivalries between their schools are inveterate and intense. The same is true in Australia, where 10 out of 16 Aussie-rules football teams vie for AFL supremacy in the Melbourne area alone. And as much as Americans cheered for our Olympians in 2008, we all remember the sheer spectacle the Chinese orchestrated in Beijing. Indeed, sports are just as meaningful a way to understand a foreign culture as they are a means of reflecting on our own. If you are studying abroad or just traveling and want to immerse yourself in the culture around you, be sure to take a look at what sports the natives are following. Here are just a few examples:

Football, Soccer, etc…
You’re probably sick of hearing it by now, but this is the world’s game. From England to South Africa, Brazil to even North Korea, this is what commands the most global presence. As this year’s world cup showed us, there are few cultural events that are as unifying -whether it was Tshabalala’s opening goal that made the stands in South Africa erupt (even Desmond Tutu was dancing), Landon Donovan’s goal for the USA against Algeria that sent a frenzy throughout bars across the states, or Spain’s victory in the end that unified the country more than any politician could. But even at the local level, it helps to just play pick-up games with the people in the neighborhood, or even go see a minor club team play. The experience is just as raucous, and much cheaper. Sumo Wrestling: An old tradition in Japan, and one that used to be exclusively Japanese. However, in recent years, good wrestlers have begun to hail from Hawaii, Samoa, Korea, Mongolia, and even Bulgaria. Before they face off, the wrestlers practice ancient Shinto rituals like cleansing the ring with salt and stamping the ground to chase away demons. When the match begins, the first to be pushed outside the ring or hit the floor loses. Though it is inadvisable to actually participate, a Sumo match is fantastic to watch live. Aussie Rules Football: An odd cross between rugby, American football, and soccer, this game is a sort of savage ballet in which players sprint around and attempt to drop-kick a ball between their opponent’s field goal posts. “Footy,” as it is known locally, is the darling sport of the state of Victoria, which has the most teams. It is extremely fun to play, and even better to watch with 80,000 screaming Australians.

Cricket: Some think it boring, others an acquired taste. But this old English game never fails to draw billions of viewers every year. Cricket is big in England, South Africa, and Australia, and quite simply a way of life in India and Pakistan. It is fun to play on the beach, and a good event to watch if you don’t mind an extremely long game. Be sure to keep out of the sun though!

Though it shares similarities to American Football, Rugby is a sport all its own. With rougher tackling, no helmets or padding, and some of the fastest and burliest athletes on the planet, this sport is truly a spectacle to watch, though a rough game to play. Moreover, native traditions give it a unique flavor that is not often found in other sports. New Zealand’s team, The All Blacks, is famous for its ceremonial Maori war dance- the haka. If you can watch this without getting the chills, you are probably not human.

It should also be said that some favorite American sports are big overseas. Basketball is huge in China, and Baseball is a favorite of Japan, Latin America, and much of the Caribbean. Get involved with them if you can to see a different perspective on a familiar sport.