Why you should care
Because as a sports fan, it’s your obligation to know at least a little about these very large events.
Welcome to America’s national holiday for slackers, otherwise known as March Madness. Over the next three weeks, hours will be spent at copying machines as fans fall in love with Cinderellas and bracket busters. According to the American Gaming Association, some 40 million Americans will wager $9.2 billion (97 percent illegally) on the NCAA tourney. Everyone from President Obama to pedicurists will try to predict which teams will reach the Final Four; there will be fans with faces painted in Duke blue or Indiana crimson; and plenty of Fathead cutouts of Donald Trump will fill the stands. But the insanity isn’t necessarily all-American. As Rick Burton, a sports management professor at Syracuse University, says: “People sometimes think that only Americans are rabid about their sports. I think we, as a planet, love our sports distractions.”
Here’s what we’re talking about:
Tour de France: The world’s most famous bicycle race, its routes are lined by 12 million fans each July. Because some fans are inches from the cyclists, things get pretty intense — which includes spectators who have punched passing cyclists. Fans spat at two-time winner Chris Froome and threw a cup of urine in his face last summer.
State of Origin: The annual rugby league series between Queensland and New South Wales brings life to a standstill in neighboring Australian states and is televised in more than 90 countries, including Papua New Guinea, where police last year called for banning live broadcasts after two fan-related killings. It’s played on three Wednesdays over seven weeks, with stadiums filling up with fans who are painted maroon (Queensland) and blue (New South Wales) in this socioeconomic battle between rural Queenslanders (derided as cane toads) and urbane New South Welshmen (mocked as cockroaches). “Queenslanders see themselves as oppressed and take great pleasure in beating cockroaches from the more famous and culturally powerful state,” Steve Mascord, a rugby league columnist for the Sydney Morning Herald, tells OZY.
Naadam Festival: Spanning three days each July across Mongolia, it features the “three games of men” — wrestling, archery and horse racing — though women now also compete in the latter two. About 1,000 horses from around the country race up to 17 miles — children 5 to 13 are the jockeys, and winners are celebrated in Mongolian poetry and song. There are no weight divisions or time limits in wrestling. As grapplers progress through rounds, they earn titles such as “Falcon” or “Elephant.” One champion was declared “Eye-Pleasing Nationally Famous Mighty and Invincible Giant.”
FA Cup: This has been England’s domestic soccer tournament since 1871. This year’s version started with 737 teams last August and leads to a May final. Small-town clubs become “fairytale teams” by pulling off improbable upsets, just as universities such as Butler and VCU have become NCAA Cinderellas. There is no seeding, and opponents are randomly drawn.
Dubai World Cup: The world’s richest horse race, with a purse of $10 million, is set for March 26 this year. Though fashionistas outnumber rowdy fans at this event, singer Janet Jackson will bring her “Unbreakable” world tour to the Meydan course on race day.