The 12 bucket-list sporting events every traveller should attend

Here's the first thing you need to know about attending a sporting event overseas: it doesn't matter if you don't like sport. This is not about the skill of the athletes. It's not about the trivial minutiae of the game.

Watching sport overseas is something more, something bigger. It's an experience. Sport, after all, is culture, a window into local passions. Sport is life, a way to meet people away from the tourist-resident dynamic, a place to forget about haggling over goods and finding your way around and being on your guard and instead just get behind a team and cheer.

Sport is colour and action. It's a festival. It's a party. It's always worth seeking out, whether you have an actual interest in the game or not.

And here are some of the best experiences out there.

Football game in Argentina

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I could refine this. I could say you have to go to La Bombonera in Buenos Aires and see Boca Juniors play. I could say you have to be there for a "superclasico", when Boca play their arch rivals River Plate. Chances are, however, that your trip to Argentina won't coincide with that famous fixture, and you won't be able to get a ticket even if it does. Instead, just focus on football in general in Argentina. Get along to any local stadium and you'll see fandom at its most frighteningly passionate, as songs are sung, flares are lit, fireworks are thrown, drums are beaten, insults are hurled… and somewhere out there, a game of football is played.

Cricket Test in India

Again, you could pick your ultimate fixture here: say, India v Pakistan at Eden Gardens in Kolkata. But you don't have to go to that specific match to appreciate the glory and the insanity of a cricket match in India. In fact you don't even have to go to a Test – get along to a short-form IPL game, or a local one-dayer. Whatever form the game in front of you takes, the crowd surrounding it will be the same: vocal, passionate, friendly, inquisitive, hysterical, knowledgeable, and above all, fun.

College football game in the USA

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Though the professional leagues of any American sport are great to witness live, for a real experience, head along to a college football game. This is the breeding ground for the game's future stars, and the support base for these teams is no less vociferous. For the ultimate experience, attend a game at a stadium that allows tail-gating: drinking and barbequing in the carpark before the match begins.

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NHL game in Canada

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Polite, friendly Canadians take on a whole different character when the puck hits the ice – and that goes for those in the stands as well as those on the skates. Ice hockey is Canada's national obsession, and there's no better way to tap into it that by going to see the Canucks, the Canadiens, the Oilers, the Maple Leafs, the Flames, the Jets or the Senators in the flesh. Be prepared for a brutal, beautiful game.

Lucha libre meet in Mexico

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Is this really a sport? And, more importantly, does it really matter? Lucha libre – Mexican professional wrestling, which is essentially pantomimes for grown-ups, as masked characters parade around the ring to boos and cheers – is a local passion, and an absolute riot to see in the flesh. Even if you don't know the characters and you don't speak the language, you'll very quickly figure out that this is a big deal for local fans, and a lot of fun for clueless visitors.

Tennis in the UK

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Wimbledon, obviously, is the big one. If you were going to select any tennis tournament in the world to attend, it would be at the All England club. Wimbledon is the perfect slice of British life, with all the strawberries and cream and Pimm's cocktails and frequent rain delays. However, there are other lawn tennis events in the UK: try the Nottingham Open, the Manchester Open, or the Queen's Club Championships.

Naadam Festival in Mongolia

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This annual festival, to local Mongolians, is all about the "three manly skills": horse-riding, archery, and wrestling. Each is a passion that's practiced in a unique way, from the child jockeys riding long-distance horse races to the oiled up wrestlers wearing little more than leather Speedos and cropped vests. For foreign spectators, Naadam is as much about the fervour and the colour of the spectators as it is about the games they've come to see.

Muay Thai bout in Thailand

The "Land of Smiles" might be relaxed and friendly, but it's also the home of one of the most brutal combat sports you'll see: Muay Thai boxing. To attend a bout – most tourists go to big arenas like Lumpinee in Bangkok, but it's even more enjoyable in smaller, rural areas – is not only to witness the battles in the ring, but the equally frenetic action around it, as bets are made using a complex system of hand gestures, and local fans cheer on their favourite fighters.

Baseball game in Japan

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There's so much that's good about seeing baseball in Japan. There's the pre-game feasting at one of the many high-quality restaurants and fast-food dens that surround Japanese stadiums. There's the mid-game drinking of excellent beer poured fresh by attendants who roam the stands with kegs on their backs. There's the predictable thoughtfulness of Japanese fans, who only cheer when their team is batting, and allow the other fans their turn when they field. Oh, and the actual baseball is great too.

Footy final in the Tiwi Islands

How popular is AFL footy in the Tiwi Islands, up off the coast of the NT? Of a population of 2300 people, more than 400 islanders are regular players. That's almost 20 per cent. The sport's popularity reaches its crescendo every March when the local grand final is held, and the islands hit festival mode as pretty much every citizen turns out to see it. If you love sport and you want to experience the true breadth of its popularity in Australia, you have to see a GF in the Tiwis.

Cycling in France

How many professional sports can you watch live for free? How many will allow you intimate access to the participants day after day, in some of the world's most beautiful locations? The answer, of course, is very few – and the Tour de France is one of them. This is the pinnacle of cycling, and spectators get to witness it up close and personal, for free. It's also about as French an experience as you can get, with regional quirks to discover in every location.

Sepak takraw in Malaysia

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This sport is amazing. It's a mixture between volleyball and football, where teams of three contort themselves into amazing positions to send a hollow bamboo ball across a high net. Sepak takraw is fast, it's athletic, and it's unique. It's also great to see in the flesh, in countries such as Malaysia, Thailand and Laos, where you'll often be the only foreigner witnessing a spectacle that's local culture at its unadulterated best.

Which sporting events have you seen overseas? Do you think this is a legitimate cultural experience? What's on your sporting bucket list?

Email: b.groundwater@fairfaxmedia.com.au

Instagram: instagram.com/bengroundwater

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