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Some Competitive Sports Trace Heritage to Countries History

Some Competitive Sports Trace Heritage to Countries History

Posted by Bruce McDougall on March 17, 2014

With participants in almost 50 sports, events like the Pan Am Games and the Olympics seem to include just about every athletic activity known to man. In 2015, for example, athletes at the Pan Am Games in Toronto will compete in roller skating, bowling, archery and squash, as well as more universally played sports such as football, which Canadians call soccer. 

Some commentators say these global events would have greater appeal to a wider audience if they included sports more familiar to participating countries.

“At the moment, many sports are rather difficult for those in lower income groups or countries to get involved with, such as sailing or equestrianism”,  says Matthew Syed, a British journalist and former competitor in Olympic table tennis. “Most of them are old, aristocratic sports put in by the founders, and many are still there even though they are only practised in tiny leagues in the western world.”

Syed argues that poorer countries and countries at an early stage of economic development would have a much better chance of winning if global sporting events became more democratic in their selection of sports.

At first glance, Syed’s argument seems convincing. Developed countries send far more athletes to international sporting events than smaller, less developed nations. And while athletes from the U.S. and Canada compete in every sport, smaller countries have to be more selective. In fact, it’s not so surprising that the U.S. wins the lion’s share of medals; but it’s astonishing that athletes even get past the first round of competition when they come from Aruba, whose entire population of 105,000 would fit into a few apartment buildings on the west side of Manhattan.

But would countries win more medals and perform more effectively if they could compete at the international level in their national sports? Argentina’s national sport is pato. Almost 400 years ago, riders on horseback competed to see who could carry a live duck between ranches. Often riding for an entire day over great distances, they would get into brawls, knife fights and wrestling matches on the way with gauchos intent on capturing the duck and taking it in another direction. Now played with a leather ball on a field about 200 metres long by 100 metres wide, pato appeals to a relatively exclusive community of enthusiasts. More than 90% of Argentinians have never seen a game.

In Mexico, charreria, regarded as a national sport, traces its origins even further into the past, when 16th-century ranch hands competed to demonstrate their skills on horseback. Like rodeo, which some cowboys in the western U.S. might regard as a more important sport than dressage, the charreria tradition has survived revolutions in Mexican society and economics but has never become an Olympic sport.

In Canada, lacrosse remains the country’s official summer sport, even though far more Canadians swim, cycle, and golf or play baseball, volleyball or soccer (which the rest of the world calls football).

In Latin America, people have played football (which Canadians call soccer) for more than 130 years, and the sport attracts more participants and spectators than all others combined.  An indoor variation, called futsal, has also become enormously popular since the game began in the 1930s. Played with a smaller, less responsive ball by two teams of five players, futsal attracts more players but fewer spectators than football. Unlike croquet, tug of war and “jeu de paume”, a variation of tennis, futsal has never been recognized as an Olympic sport.

Regardless of activity, most athletes don’t choose their sport because of its status as a globally sanctioned sport. According to a recent Canadian study, two-thirds of the athletes who receive government subsidies to train for international competition participate in their sport simply because they love it.




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