With all eyes on London’s Olympic venues, where else in the world is worth a sporting pilgrimage?
Historic home to the Boston Red Sox. Despite being one of the biggest teams in Major League Baseball, the Sox failed to win a World Series championship for a spirit-crushing 86 years between 1918 and 2004 after thinking it was a great idea to sell Babe Ruth to the New York Yankees (doh!). Fenway is the oldest baseball stadium in current use and is considered one of only two ‘classic’ ballparks left in the USA (the other being the Chicago Cubs’ Wrigley Field). As such, and unlike many of its soulless, modern carpark-surrounded cousins it is small (37.5k capacity) and located right in the beating heart of the city. A key feature is the 11 metre-high left field wall, known as the green monster which now has seats installed on top, so sit up there if you dare (and if you can afford it). Stadium tours run most days (until three hours before game time on match days). If you fancy sticking around to take in a game, bleacher seats start at a piffling $12, so you’ll have plenty left over to fill up with overpriced Budweisers and Fenway Franks.
FC Barcelona’s home ground is Europe’s largest stadium (also the 11th largest in the world) and has hosted two Champions League finals as well as countless showdowns with Barca’s bitter rivals Real Madrid. The team’s slogan ‘Mes que un club’ (Catalan for ‘more than a club’) gives some insight into its role as a source of pride for the region’s people. A one and a half hour tour called ‘the camp nou experience’ takes visitors through the history of club and stadium alike.
Love it or hate it, Olympic fever has been gripping the nation of late, but this isn’t the first time London has had the games. At the 1948 incarnation (an austere, post-war affair, sponsored by Woodbine Cigarettes and Shippam’s Crab Paste … probably) aquatic events were staged at the city’s utterly charming outdoor public pools. From Finchley in the north to Brockwell in the south and London Fields in the east, an outdoor swim is surely a must any time you find yourself in the capital with a sunny afternoon to kill.
Piazza del Campo
Siena’s stunning 13th century main square is home to the thrilling, violent, completely crazy Palio: a bareback horse race in which the city’s contrade (districts) compete for honour and bragging rights in the most Italian way imaginable. Build-up begins hours before the race with a magnificent medieval pageant which attracts visitors from all around the world (in other words: get there early). The main event usually only lasts little over a minute and a half but in such beautiful historic surroundings you’ll be more than happy to hang around and soak up the atmosphere. Ryanair fly to nearby Pisa from Edinburgh five times a week.
Beijing National Aquatics Centre
An iconic structure from the Olympic Games of four years ago, commonly known as the Water Cube (although technically a cuboid) this architectural prize-winner cost a cool £75 million to build. It was the scene of the all-time largest haul of medals by a single athlete when Michael Phelps won eight golds in 2008. You can take it a bit easier than Phelps though, as the centre has been converted into a public leisure space with numerous water rides and slides, a wave pool and spa areas.
Melbourne Cricket Ground
With a capacity of over 100,000, the MCG is something approaching a Mecca for those enamoured with the smack of leather on willow. Top tip is to head over for the traditional Boxing Day test match, an occasion of unparalleled atmosphere where hordes of zinc-nosed locals gather to sip the amber nectar and ‘sledge’ the unfortunate opposition. A sleepy English village green this ain’t.
A version of this article originally appeared in The Pulse magazine.
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Monday 20 May 2013
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