World Cup

The Other Sports—There’s More than Just Soccer in Spain

Soccer, soccer, soccer. Or—if you must—football, football, football. (As an aside, please do not get Mario started on this topic about the inane naming of a sport where you hardly use your feet.)

Living in Spain means being constantly surrounded by the sport. I tried to resist, but resistance is futile. Grin and bear it until your grin is no longer fake. Empecé a cogerle cariño (I started to almost like it) in the summer of 2010, when Spain was fighting to win its first World Cup title. Iniesta, you changed my life. I do love the Spanish national team, but when it comes to La Liga or la Champion’s, you can count me out.

Camiseta Selección Española

Besides, I’m a Hoosier. We eat, sleep, drink, and dream basketball.

Hoosier Hysteria

But—believe it or not!—there are other sports in Spain. Let’s take a look at some of the most popular.

Motorsports

Motorsports include Formula One, IndyCar, Stock Car (see: NASCAR), Motocross, and all other sorts of racing involving motorized vehicles. In Spain, the most popular ones are Formula 1 and some involving motorcyles (e.g., MotoGP).

Fernando Alonso 2012 Grand Prix

[Source: Wikipedia]

Some of the most famous Spanish athletes in this category include: Fernando Alonso, a Formula One driver (piloto, as they in Spanish), a two-time World Champion, who races for Ferrari; Jorge Lorenzo, a motorcycle road racer and World Champion in 250cc and MotoGP; and Dani Pedrosa, a Grand Prix motorcycle racer and champion in 250cc Grands Prix.

Basketball

People do like basketball in Spain, and the NBA is very popular here, sometimes even more popular than back at home. (In Indiana, we’re college-basketball fans.) Sometimes when I mention that I’m from Indiana, someone will excitedly shout at me, “Indiana Pacers!” There is also a Spanish league, called La Liga ACB, and it’s regulated by the International Basketball Federation (FIBA from its name in French). This league is regulated quite differently from the NBA and is populated by many Americans who weren’t quite good enough to make it back home as well as others who desire to play in the competitive European leagues.

The Spanish league competes to win the Copa del Rey, the King’s Cup, (just like in the soccer league) as well as in the Euroleague.

Some Spanish-basketball-player names you may recognize:

Pau Gasol

Pau Gasol, who plays for the Los Angeles Lakers, is four-time NBA All-Star and has won two NBA championships with the Lakers.

Ricky Rubio

Ricky Rubio, who plays for Minnesota Timberwolves, was the youngest player ever to play in the Spanish league at age 14. He was drafted by the Timberwolves in 2009, and thus became the first player born in the 1990s to drafted by the NBA.

Serge Ibaka

Serge Ibaka, who plays for Oklahoma City Thunder (formerly the Seattle Supersonics), is a Spanish player who was born in the Republic of the Congo. He is the third youngest of eighteen (!) siblings.

Tennis

Perhaps the biggest reason tennis is so popular is Rafa Nadal, considered to be the best Spanish tennis player of all time.

Rafa Nadal

Rafa, also known as “The King of Clay” for his incredible success on clay courts, is only 26 years old, but has won eleven Grand Slam singles titles (including seven French Open titles) and an Olympic gold medal in singles in 2008. His success, charisma, and general likability have turned him into the singular reason for the sport’s popularity in Spain.

Futsal

Futsal (fútbol sala) is like soccer, but played indoors on a smaller field. Its name comes from the Portuguese futebol de salão, “hall football.” Spain’s team has won the FIFA Futsal World Cup twice and the UEFA Futsal Championship six times, making it second after Brazil.

Handball

Perhaps the most surprising of all to me, handball (balonmano) is quite popular around the country. In handball, two teams of seven players pass the ball (with their hands, surprise surprise!) in order to score a goal. There are two thirty-minute halves. Goals are scored quite frequently, and the game moves fast, making it enjoyable to watch.

Handball Spain Champions

[Source]

In 2013, Spain won the World Men’s Handball Championship, defeating Denmark 35–19.

Cycling

Cycling is also quite popular here, and has been since the mid-1900s. The Vuelta a España, or Tour of Spain, is one of the most important events in the cycling world alongside the famous Tour de France and Giro d’Italia.

The Tour de France is unquestionably the most famous of the three, and there have been Spanish champions, including Federico Bahamontes, Luis Ocaña, Pedro Delgado, Óscar Pereiro, Alberto Contador, and Carlos Sastre. But perhaps the most famous is Miguel Indurain, who won for five years running between 1991 and 1995 and held the record until broken by Lance Armstrong. (This is not to say there hasn’t been cycling controversy here the same as in the US.)

Miguel Indurain

Miguel Indurain in 1996

So there you have it. Spain: it’s not all about football. (But it is mainly about football. No denying it.)

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Champions … and It’s Not a Dream

So says the headline on El Mundo, a Spain newspaper that Mario reads religiously, and one which I’ve taken to reading as well.

Soccer, to me, meant little before I went to Spain. In fact, soccer meant little before this year. I started to really grasp its significance during the end of the league games in May. The warm nights would allow Mario and me to open the windows of the stuffy apartment, letting in the cool, early summer night air. With the air came the sounds of soccer, the cries of the rabid fans. Mario and I would be in his room, his nose buried in 300 pages of notes, mine in a book. It always began with a profound stillness. The stillness was disquieting in a way. Spain is not known for its subdued citizenry. But I’d forgotten – the game was on. What game is the game? The answer, my friends, is simple. The game is any game, any game that has the slightest importance that happens to be on tonight. So, the silence was deafening. That is, until a goal was scored. A roar would go up, the open windows and doors allowing for the cries of the Spanish soccer fans (i.e., the whole nation) to be heard. Mario would smile, say, “Someone has scored,” and flip on his portable radio just in time to hear the exuberant announcer screaming, “GOOOOOOOOL! GOL!” No matter who it was, when it was, whether it was the first or fifth goal, the announcer would yell until he was out of breath. It was almost laughable if it weren’t so utterly fervent, if the sentiments behind it weren’t 100% genuine.

Soccer, fútbol, is king in Spain. It’s king in a way that no sport can ever be here, in the U.S. We have too many commitments: we love basketball, baseball, tennis, football, swimming. We are great in many, if not all, of these sports. Yet we have yet to really become a player on the world stage of soccer. Why? I’m not sure. I just know that no other sport can compare to soccer in Spain. It’s a unifier in an often divided country. With the Catalonians fighting for their independence from Spain, the terrorists in the Basque country, it’s easy to see just how divided Spain can be. But soccer and rooting for La Roja unites those from all walks of life, from little Spanish abuelas who barely reach five feet tall to African immigrants to the boys playing soccer in the city plazas. It is a non-elite sport, one that can be played with hardly any equipment. All that’s needed is a ball and a dream.

Thousands of little Spanish boys who watched this final tonight have gone to bed, thoughts of Casillas and Iniesta dancing in their heads. Tomorrow, Monday morning, will dawn bright and early. They will yawn, stretch, and wake up to a beaten up soccer ball nestled in bed beside them. And they will smile.