- -  Day # 116  + +

EU > Spain > San Sebasti?n

Sporty Spain

San Sebasti?n, ES (View on map)

Every country has its favourite sports and for many countries in Europe, that favourite sport is football. The Primera Divisi?n is one of the leading European football leagues and many players can only dream of being recruited by one of the Spanish teams. But is there any other sport in Spain that can compete with the popularity of football?

Estitxu (26):

..will stay away from playing Pelota
To the disappointment of many, the Spanish national team has created a tradition of giving Spain hope for a European or even world title. But so far, the second part of the tradition has been that Spain got kicked out of the tournament somewhere halfway. Love for the national team is highly conditional. Those who praise the team after a victory are just as good at despising it after a defeat. Separatist sympathies further undermine nation-wide support. Catalan people are accused of cheering for any opponent of the Spanish national team.

Club football
Knowing this, it is hardly a surprise that club football enjoys more popularity. Many people support their local teams and also pick a favourite out of the big two, Real Madrid and FC Barcelona. The fight for the national titles is usually a battle between these two, with every year another regional newcomer. The local team from San Sebastian, Real Sociedad was forced to exchange the first league for the second, after having played at the highest level for 40 years.

Some claim football is religion. Saying that it is replacing religion would be a nice alternative. Just compare how football became ever more popular over the last 20 years, while the influence of religion has faded out at almost the same extent. Football players are seen as modern-day heroes and even examples, which is something that can no longer be said about biblical characters. Both football and the church owe most of their popularity to the fiestas they incite.

Bull fights
The Spanish word fiesta does not uniquely refer to the popular partying culture. It is also a common name for a traditional day in the arena. Bull fights are not popular in Basque Country but they still are in the rest of Spain. Nevertheless, Jes?s (24) from Cadiz tells me that bull fighting is reaching its expiry date. Every new generation tends to be less fanatic about it, leading to a slow but steady dilution of populatiry. Some newspapers refuse to write about it, or even refuse announcements of bull fighting events.

Animal rights organizations are vividly opposing bull fights. In their view, torturing bulls before leaving them a slow and painful death is as useless as it is cruel. Defenders of the bullfights claim that the bull dies in a noble way. They consider bullfight to be an art, with the Torreador as the artist and the bull as a representative of natural power. Taste for bullfights is transmitted from father to son through the glorification of the custom. Toy shops full of swords and associated clothes facilitate the transmission of the tradition.

See or do
The north-south divide in Spain also dictates in which way people enjoy sports. `In the south, people watch sport, while people from the north are more likely to practice sports`, says Aloha (24) from Madrid. She plays basketball (baloncesto) herself. While she tells me about her view on sports, I also conclude that team sports are more popular in the south, while individual sports are more popular in the north. In all of Spain`s regions, there is also a huge difference between sporty people and non-sporty people. People who consider sport a worthwhile activity spend a lot of time on it, while people who don`t will not spend any time at all. All this to say that people don`t take sports lightly ? it`s not something you do randomly.

The popularity of different disciplines largely depends on individual role models. Tennis player Nadal is currently making tennis popular, while Alonso is drawing public towards Formula 1. Indurain inspired many people to start a sports career in cycling.

Highland games
Since I am still in Basque Country, I am particularly interested in local sports, should any of those exist. Igor (33) and Estitxu (26, photo) help me out. They introduce me to a world of sports that only a handful of primitive Scotsmen could compete with. Most widespread is Pelota, a game similar to squash, but played with bare hands. Men practicing this sports usually have one very big and strong hand, which has led to some funny incidents with companies who wanted to replace personal pincards by biometric access control. Players of Pelota had hands too big and too curved to properly fit the machines.

While Pelota has an official league and is oftentimes played in closed areas, the summer village festivals offer a variety of open-air activities. A must for those who like to see people throw stones, lift heavy extremely heavy objects or have to cut wood quicker or with fewer movements. Apart from that, the Basque region also welcomes other more conventional sports like surfing, canoeing, jogging and cycling. San Sebastian hosts many international events like sailing regattas, a local annual marathon and the cycling classic Cl?sica San Sebasti?n. Mountainous surroundings further make the city a very suitable starting point for hikes, or, within acceptable distance towards the East, skiing and snowboarding.

Enlarge photo | Link to this article