Is it really that time of year again? It goes by so fast, doesn’t it? We are doing the same thing we normally do in early January – looking at the long year to come stretching out ahead of us and desperately trying to find a few bright lights in a seemingly endless sea of monotony. Fortunately, many of those lights come from the sporting events that we look forward to every year. Many of these are fixed events – the FA Cup, the Champion’s League, Wimbledon, Six Nations, Formula 1, and so on. But others are special, world competitions that happen every once in a while or one-off meetings that you have the whole year to look forward to. We have even included a few weird and wonderful occasions that you probably didn’t even know you needed in your life.
Most world cup competitions come around every four years or so, but the good news is that there are now so many world sporting events, there is usually something every year for people to get behind. This year, England and Wales host the Cricket World Cup, from 30th May to 15th July. Afghanistan make their World Cup debut, having been given ICC accreditation in 2017 (along with Ireland). Those with a penchant for following an underdog will find Afghanistan a team with great potential, having beaten Sri Lanka and drawn against India in the Asia Cup.
Meanwhile, all eyes will be on France over the summer for the Women’s W. Cup. Held between 7th June and 7th July. The USA and France are the favourites, but the UK women’s team has far more potential than the men’s team, and we all remember how well they got on last year. If our ladies can exceed expectations to the same extent, then we could see ourselves coming home with the trophy.
Toward the end of the year, Japan becomes the centre of attention as it becomes the first nation to host the Rugby World Cup outside of the usual suspects. After their heroic upset of South Africa during the 2015, expectation will be that the hosts will be able to cause a few upsets in their group, which includes Scotland and Wales. England have a pretty easy group, with Italy, Samoa and Uruguay to contend with, but pity poor Georgia and Tonga who find themselves up against New Zealand and Australia.
Many sporting highlights happen at the same time every year, it is yet to be decided who will be taking part. The FA Cup, Champions League and Wimbledon, for example, always take when you’d expect them to. Other events are more sporadic, such as boxing or MMA. Sometimes, one side is ready, they are just waiting for an opponent. Anthony Joshua will be at Wembley Stadium on the 13th April. Whether he’ll be there on his own or not is yet to be decided, because he hasn’t got an opponent. The chances of it being Tyson Fury or Deontay Wilder are pretty slim, since both stand to make more from their rematch than they do fighting for all of AJ’s belts. Such is the sad state of boxing.
Another fighter hoping to fill his dance card on 4th May will be Saul Alvarez. After the drama and excitement of the GGG rematch earlier in the year, his victory over Brit Rocky Fielding in December was barely noticed. Chances are that it will be American Daniel Jacobs, the third-ranked middleweight in the world behind Canelo and GGG, but he doesn’t carry the brand recognition of some of his bigger opponents (of course, that would change in a second if he could score an unexpected win).
After his extraordinary ‘exhibition’ bout in Japan last week, Floyd Mayweather may be on the lookout for some more easy money (he apparently earned $9 million). Will his plans include the UFC’s Khabib Nurmagomedov? They might, because who knows what Money Mac might do next.
Weird and Wonderful
If you’ve ever wanted to catch one of the world’s truly bizarre sporting contests, now is the time to start preparing for it. For example, if you’re taking a holiday to Italy in June this year, then you might want to make a point of visiting Florence to see the Calcio Fiorentino (which translates as “Florentine kick game”). This is part medieval pageant – as a large square is filled with flag-carrying gents in colourful traditional outfits for the opening ceremony – and part free-for-all. The game itself is like a cross between MMA and rugby, as four teams of 27 compete for the glory of being the winner. It is a chaotic and violent game, but it always ends with everyone the best of friends.
If chaotic and ancient games of football are what you are into, then perhaps the Royal Shrovetide football match will do. Played since the 12th century, this game runs over two days, Shrove Tuesday and Ash Wednesday, starting at 2.30pm and ended 10pm. There are hundreds of players, who move the ball up and down the village in huge mobs which are charmingly referred to as ‘hugs’. There are very few rules, but one of them makes a specific point to say that murder is prohibited. Fortunately, it is far less violent these days.
For a change of pace, you could try the Palio di Siena, an ancient bareback horse race that takes place in the city square. Most Italian cities hold a Palio of some kind, a method by which local rivals between towns and villages settled their differences. The Palio di Siena is the most famous of these, but there are dozens of others to be checked out.
A newer sport that was started in Finland is slowly gaining traction around the world, and may also be an interesting sporting event to witness is the annual wife-carrying contest. Started in 1992, the race involves a course involving jumps and pools. The contest has proved so popular that versions are springing up in the USA, UK, Australia and Hong Kong, though we are pretty sure that it’s only the Finnish version that offers a first prize of the winning wife’s weight in beer.