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In Costa Rica Sports Is A National Religion

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Thursday 01 November 2012 | QTop Stories Costa Rica

Sports in Costa Rica is national religion, transcending race, politics, uniting the country – and not just the male half, where the national adrenaline goes into overdrive during events like the”classico”, the regular matches between national rivals Saprissa and Alajuelense. Sports, like no other Costa Rican institution, has shown it has the power to stop the nation in its tracks even for only 90 minutes.

There is no question that when the “La Selección or Sele”, the national team plays Costa Ricans become united, putting aside their religious differences and political bickering. During the World Cup 2006 games the country came to a standstill, as then president Arias declaring that workers could have time off to watch the games. Some businesses decided to host game parties – allowing workers to watch the World Cup games at work rather than risk employees calling in sick the entire day or leaving on a break and not return.

Games like the FIFA Futsal World Cup in Thailand today take over national television broadcasting. This morning’s 6am news, a staple on national television on weekdays, will have to wait for the noon edition. The game live from Thailand takes priority.

Sports are a very important part of life in Costa Rica. Though there are many more important things in the world, some days are completely ruined because the favourite team has lost – or won – and sports news will overshadow other important news.

At the San José airport, “La Sele” players are treated like stars, met by television cameras and mobs of sports reporters with microphones. In some cases, the arrivals are transmitted live. For foreigners arriving at San José they immediately think “where’s the celebrity? was he or she on my flight and I missed it?”. Professional soccer players in Costa Rica are celebrities.

Without a question sports provides people with entertainment and something to get excited about and are topics of conversation. Sports provides a common bond for complete strangers and a common “team” to cheer for. Sports is not only capable of uniting a large group of people, it can boost the moral of an entire country, the ability to transcend being “just a game.”

In Costa Rica sports is not only a men’s domain, it is definitely an “equality” thing, as women can and do get just as excited to sporting events. Sports stadiums and local soccer fields have an equal number of women and men in the stands. And the women are not there just to accompany “their” man, but part of the culture, getting into the game with ferver. Entire families go to the games or sit around the tube watching it live. No blackouts in Costa Rica.

Although there are a variety of sports activities and events in Costa Rica, soccer or “fútbol” IS sports. Whenever we talk about sports in Costa Rica we are really talking about fútbol, the Costa Rican national pastime.

The sport as introduced to the country by English settlers in the early 20th century, and succeeding generations have refined an aggressive style of play that has repeatedly earned Costa Rica’s national team the Central American Soccer Union (Unión Centroamericana de Futbol; UNCAF) Nations Cup as the champions of Central America.

In 1887, a man named Pinto Oscar Fernandez returned home from England with a soccer ball, notes Costa Rica’s football federation website. At the same time, the children of wealthy coffee growers were going to England to study and returning with a passion for the sport. They were joined by English industrialists who installed streetcars in the capital, San Jose. The years 1904-06 saw the establishment of football clubs to promote team play. The national league came into being on June 13, 1921, and in 1927, Costa Rica joined FIFA, the international governing body of soccer.

Kids play soccer whenever and wherever they can. After school most vacant lots become soccer fields.

Small towns often feature soccer games, and the whole town gathers to watch. No built up town is without a soccer field or three. Sundays mornings (after church) are dedicated to soccer. In fact, in many small towns, the soccer field is across or next to the Catholic church and typically on the main road through town.

In San José Fútbol fanatics can see the national soccer team duke it out with competitors at the Estadio Nacional (National Stadium) in La Sabana Park or at the Estadio Ricardo Saprissa in Tibas. Alajuela has its stadium. Heredia and Cartago have their “palacio de deportes” (sports complex), Puntarenas, Liberia, Perez Zeledon and San Carlos all have “estadios” and soccer clubs for national competition.

Recently “futbol5” or “fútbol sala” arenas have cropped up in many areas around San José. The game is a team sport played between two teams of five players each (instead of nine players in the full scale game), within a hard floor court.

In Costa Rica American Football and Baseball are not very popular. Those games are usually preferred by expats living in Costa Rica and available at select “gringo” bars. The local cable companies recently opted not to carry the games on their channel lineups, no enough viewers to make it pay.

Basketball and Volleyball are also quite popular, but soccer wins out every time.

Soccer in Costa Rica is so important that the Chinese built a HUGE soccer stadium in San José, paying for the cost of construction and materials and handing it over to Costa Rica who put the land, the location of the old stadium in the northwest corner of the La Sabana park.Although the stadium is multi-use, there is no question it was built for and around soccer.

The importance of sport
The question is, does sport merit this kind of interest and attention? Researches have found that from a social standpoint, sport plays a positive role in uniting people from different social backgrounds in support of their favourite team. This can aid people’s understanding and tolerance of each other.

As far as education is concerned, sport is an important part of every child’s schooling, as it plays a big role in both their physical and mental development. It teaches children how to work as a part of a team and cooperate with others, while at the same time improving physical condition.

From an economic point of view, sport can be very profitable, as it attracts a lot of sponsorship and advertising. On the one hand this creates revenue for the sporting industry which allows for improvement and expansion.

Sports can simplify a person’s focus. You forget about problems at hand. You can completely be absorbed in the game, and for 90 minutes, cheering for your team is all that matters.

Sport as a catalyst for Peace
In the words of Mario Pescante, Permanent Representative of the IOC to the UN, “sport and peace are binomial.” In the modern Olympic Games, sport seems to be able to remove political obstacles that other policies cannot achieve through the dialogue it creates. Sport has, for example, facilitated dialogue among conflicting countries, such as the United States and China; Pakistan and India, or the Koreas. Although sport cannot solve wars, it can unite. “Sport has become a world language, a common denominator that breaks down all the walls, all the barriers,” UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said at the event.

Jaime Alberto Rodriguez Jiménez, Director of the National Institute of Sport in El Salvador, explained the high levels of violence and crime that characterize his country and Central America in general. In his country alone, organized crime and gangs combined with a lack of opportunities result in 10 to 12 young people being killed on a daily basis. He called upon the international community to promote sport as a tool to address the violence and insecurity in Central America and to provide the youth with better opportunities. Today, he said, “the media shows crime and bloodshed, not sports.”

The UN Secretary-General urges governments to integrate sport in development assistance programs and in national development programs.

Organized Futbol in Costa Rica
According to FIFA the country has 1,034,000 unregistered players and 50,588 registered, in 254 clubs. Some of which are:

  • The Federación Costarricense de Fútbol
  • The Primera División de Costa Rica
  • Costa Rica national football team – La Sele
  • Liga Deportiva Alajuelense
  • Asociación Deportiva San Carlos
  • Asociacion Deportiva Santacruceña
  • Asociación Deportiva Ramonense
  • Asociación Deportiva Carmelita
  • Brujas F.C.
  • Club Sport Cartaginés
  • Club Sport Herediano
  • Municipal Liberia
  • Municipal Pérez Zeledón
  • Puntarenas F.C. S.A.D.
  • Santos de Guápiles Fútbol Club
  • Deportivo Saprissa

Costa Rica’s Achievements in Soccer

  • FIFA World Cup™ appearances (1990, 2002, 2006)
  • Continental Titles: Winner CONCACAF Championship (1963, 1969)
  • Runners-Up CONCACAF Gold Cup (2002 USA).
  • Third FIFA Club World Cup (2005)
  • Fourth FIFA U-20 World Cup Final (2009). Source FIFA.com