The final country to visit on the Why Sport Matters tour of South America was Colombia. To say that Colombia is different than what we had expected is an understatement. Not only is it naturally beautiful with several diverse climates, but the people are warm and went out of their way to make us feel welcome and introduce us to the real Colombia. In addition, their passion for sport has been intertwined with the history of the country, and is a good example of how sport reflects culture.
The capital city of Bogota is the business centre and largest city. Although located right on the equator, it sits at an altitude of over 2,000 meters, which means it never gets very hot. It has a vibrant nightlife, with several bustling universities and many cultural attractions. It is amongst the steep and mountainous terrain of this region that some of the world’s top cyclists are found, with Colombians world renowned as the best climbers in racing. As a result, cycling is very popular in Colombia. Bogota originated a programme called Ciclovia, where every Sunday the main streets of Colombia’s largest cities close down to allow citizens to hit the streets in bicycles, rollerblades and running shoes.
Argentina and Chile meet at the southern end of the continent of South America, and this area is often referred to as the “end of the world,” or el fin del mundo. Why Sport Matters was fortunate to spend a few weeks checking out the passion for sport of these Latinos.
The biggest news during our time here was the massive earthquake that struck the central coastline of Chile on 27 February. We actually felt the earth shaking in Mendoza, Argentina, which is on the eastern side of the Andes Mountains, but only 150 miles from Santiago. As a result, we spent one week longer in Argentina than planned, and unfortunately cut short our time in Chile to only a couple of days.
Why Sport Matters started things off in Buenos Aires, an enormous city and the cultural center of Argentina — which is also known for being the home of the tango. In many ways, the dance of the tango reflects Argentinean life — a unique blend of different cultures, mixed together with romance, passion and a touch of melancholy.
When considering sport in Argentina, it is impossible not to bring up the legendary Maradona – arguably the most famous person in the history of the country. Though respected as one of the best football players ever, we found that many Argentineans are embarrassed by some of his personal behaviors and skeptical about his ability as the current coach of the national team. Nonetheless, he has attained a god-like status and remains a very special and symbolic personality for the country.
There are no shortage of reasons why Rio de Janeiro is commonly known as the Cidade Maravilhosa – the Marvelous City. Intricately worked in between gorgeous beaches and lush green mountains, and topped with a big dose of Carnaval attitude, Rio is the perfect location for a party. The sport culture here (and for most of Brazil) reflects this passion, and the city is literally exploding thanks to the impact of sport. Having been selected for the Olympic Summer Games in 2016, it is indeed an exciting place to be, and Why Sport Matters jumped in to find out more.
A lesson in the local language in Sao Paulo (which is both a region as well as a city): a person from the state of Sao Paulo is called a Paulista, from the city of Sao Paulo – a Paulistano, and if you support Sao Paulo Futebol Club, you are a Sao Paulino. And it was a friend who is all three who eloquently said that in Brazil, “Everybody’s life is touched by football.”
To understand Why Sport Matters in this country, one has to get to know the football culture. To say that Brazil is football crazy is an understatement. In Sao Paulo, the business capital of Brazil and a huge sprawling metropolis approaching 20 million people, there are many players and teams to support. The big football clubs of Sao Paulo are Corinthians, Palmeiras, Sao Paulo FC, and Santos (located on the coast about 80 km from the SP city). Santos is the club made famous by football legend Pele (who is regularly still in the news and is turning 70 this year). Corinthians — the club with the biggest fan base — has made the news recently by bringing back two big stars to Brazilian football, Ronaldo and Roberto Carlos.
The last weeks in Africa for Why Sport Matters were filled with nostalgia and a bit of adventure. It has been a great 3-month tour of Africa, but we are also excited to be heading to South America – with the first stop in Brazil (see the updated TRAVEL SCHEDULE). John can also take comfort that he will be returning to South Africa in 5 months for World Cup 2010 starting in June.
As is turns out, Zambia was the final country to visit in Africa. On New Year’s Day, Why Sport Matters headed from the capital of Lusaka to Livingstone, where the famous Victoria Falls is located. These majestic waterfalls (see photo) are one of the world’s natural wonders as huge slices in the earth surface allow enormous amounts of water from the Zambezi River to crash down into the gorge. The resulting effect of mist and noise made the locals call the place “Mosi-oa-tunya” – the smoke that thunders. Check out this video with our new friend Chiinga, a local nature guide, who gave us some insight into the area.