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It's the roar of the crowd. It's the passion of the people. It's the athleticism of the players and the anger of the coaches. It's the stadium quirks like punnets of strawberries and cream or enormous hot dogs. It's the half-time show. It's the full-time result.
It's all of these things and more. A sporting event anywhere in the world is culture writ large. It's the chance to mix with locals while getting yourself involved with something they care dearly about. It's the opportunity to witness passion and pride. And it's also something a growing number of travellers are embracing as a way to experience a foreign land – as well as our own.
"We're seeing a big uptake in a lot of events, not just sporting events either, but big events," says Daniel Morahan, managing director for event specialists Keith Prowse Travel. "It's something different. Take Wimbledon, for example: this is a world-class event that people have watched on television for years. And they've now got the opportunity to go and experience it live. It's interactive, it's exciting, and it complements a European trip they'd always planned to do."
Going to a major sporting event could provide the chance to support one of your favourite Australian stars in a foreign land, or it might be an opportunity to embrace someone else's idols as your own. These events are bucket-list experiences, the sort of thing people spend their whole lifetimes dreaming about and planning for. They're much more than just a game.
June 27 – July 10, 2016
WHY GO Perhaps the most famous sporting event in the world is also a pleasure to take in from the stands.
WATCHING BRIEF Wimbledon is more than just the tennis. It's punnets of strawberries and cream. It's glasses of Pimm's and lemonade. It's a wander through the immaculate grounds at SW19 and taking in the atmosphere of lawn tennis at its finest. If you're lucky enough to secure Centre Court tickets at Wimbledon, you can expect to see players such as Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal, Maria Sharapova and Serena Williams, and to share the spectator experience with anyone from rock stars to royals.
INSIDER TIP If rain delays prompt a "People's Sunday" on the middle Sunday of the event, arrive extremely early if you hope to secure tickets.
ESSENTIALS Packages including tickets and accommodation from $585. See kpt.com.au.
Augusta, Georgia, USA
April 7 – 10, 2016
WHY GO Soak up the tradition of Augusta National Golf Club while watching the best in the world tackle this classic course.
WATCHING BRIEF There isn't a golfer in the world who would knock back the chance to walk the hallowed turf of Augusta during the Masters (or any other time of year, frankly). Along with the Open Championship in Britain, this is a classic golf tournament, famous for its history of testing even the greatest of golfers, and for its prize of a green jacket for the victor. Spectator numbers are limited at Augusta, meaning those lucky enough to get a ticket can enjoy an intimate experience with the world's best.
INSIDER TIP While only 40,000 spectators are allowed on course during each tournament day, that number swells to 50,000 during the lead-up practice rounds.
ESSENTIALS Ticket pricing TBC; apply at tickets.masters.com.
MONACO GRAND PRIX
WHY GO Europe's rich and glamorous gather in the tiny nation of Monaco to see the Formula One cars take to this famous street circuit.
WATCHING BRIEF Location, location, location. If you were to judge high-speed, high-performance motor-racing events on the location in which they're held, you couldn't go past the Monaco Formula 1 Grand Prix, which takes place on the narrow street circuit in Monaco. It's not just the scenery that makes this the world's greatest race, however; it's how close spectators can get to the action, with stands banked up right by the track; it's the challenge of the circuit and watching the drivers battle it; and it's the glitz and glamour of the pre- and post-race events.
INSIDER TIP Arguably the best place to view the race is at Casino Square, where cars sweep past the Monte Carlo Casino.
ESSENTIALS Packages including accommodation and race tickets start from $1925 per person. See ktp.com.au.
Santa Clara, California, USA
February 7, 2016
WHY GO The sheer size of this spectacle will take your breath away, from the huge stands to the glitz of the half-time show, and the power of the game itself.
WATCHING BRIEF Merely watching the Super Bowl on TV is an experience. Imagine going to the game itself. Imagine being part of the culmination of a season of NFL football, when a nation pauses to watch something like 150 athletes slam into each other, leap over each other, run, throw, catch and tackle each other, for the glory of becoming Super Bowl champions. Being at the game is to experience the full theatre of it, to "tail-gate" in the car park beforehand, to see the glamour of the half-time show, to eat a hot dog and drink a beer and yell and scream and try to figure out exactly what just happened down on that field about 300 metres away. This is one for the bucket list.
INSIDER TIP Don't just book match tickets early; everything from hotels to golf games with your mates should be organised well in advance.
ESSENTIALS Pre-register now for tickets and travel packages. See astsports.com.au.
CALCIO STORICO FIORENTINO
WHY GO This traditional and admittedly brutal sport is a one-of-a-kind event in historic Florence.
WATCHING BRIEF Calcio Storico, meaning "historic football", is a recreation of an ancient version of soccer held in the Piazza Santa Croce in Florence. In three matches a year, two teams from different sections of the city dress in the traditional garb of brightly coloured pantaloons and bare chests, before emerging onto the sand-covered arena and beginning the war. There's a ball involved. There's a goal at each end. But none of these things appear to matter to the combatants, who spend the vast proportion of the match attempting to hurt each other. It's as fascinating to watch as it is brutal to participate, as modern-day grievances are played out in the guise of tradition.
INSIDER TIP If you can't secure tickets for the main event, a parade involving all the players is held on the day of the final match, June 24 each year.
ESSENTIALS Tickets cost from $35 to $60, and are released in May each year. See boxol.it.
TOUR DE FRANCE
July 4 – 26, 2015
WHY GO As stunning for the rural beauty of its setting as for the athleticism of its competitors, this is cycling at its finest. And attendance is free.
WATCHING BRIEF Attending the Tour de France is no passive holiday. You have to be committed to this. You have to plan. This is a moving feast of athletic brilliance that whips around the country at breakneck pace, and if you want to see the peloton you'll have to work to keep up with it. But it's worth it. For every cycling enthusiast, a pilgrimage to see Le Tour is not a question of "if", but "when". Spectators see surprisingly little of the actual race – just the whoosh of the peloton as it flies by your position by the side of the road – but this is more about the whole experience. It's seeing the sights of rural France, discovering its villages and towns, its mountains and valleys, in between small bursts of the sport itself.
INSIDER TIP For the ultimate in ease and comfort, hire yourself a campervan to follow the race.
ESSENTIALS Once you're in France, viewing the race is free. While most tour packages for 2015 are sold out, pre-book for 2016 packages at philandersoncycling.com.au.
Various locations, USA
WHY GO Some of sport's highest-paid athletes strut their stuff over seven nail-biting and highly entertaining games to decide the NBA champions.
WATCHING BRIEF As with any finals series on the American sporting calendar, these aren't just games, but events. We're talking more than three hours of entertainment that doesn't stop when the players do; if anything it kicks into gear, with musical performances, cheerleaders, dancers, competitions and T-shirts being fired out of cannons. On the court, you get some of the finest athletes on the planet: guys like LeBron James, Kevin Durant, Blake Griffin and Tony Parker, battling it out for the NBA crown. The atmosphere is always electric and the skill level on court is almost difficult to believe.
INSIDER TIP To increase your chances of scoring a ticket, register for the NBA ticket exchange on each NBA team's website prior to the playoffs.
ESSENTIALS While difficult and expensive to secure, NBA finals tickets can be found on stubhub.com.
January 18 – 31, 2016,
WHY GO This two-week-long extravaganza showcases the best in world tennis, and it's right on our doorstep.
WATCHING BRIEF There are only four grand slam tennis tournaments across the globe each year, and Australia gets to host one of them. That's a pretty amazing honour, and it means the absolute best exponents of the game will arrive on our shores each January to compete. There's always a story from the Australian Open, whether it's the traditional takeover of Swedish fans in the stands, or the traditional five-set, 3am marathon match involving Lleyton Hewitt in the first round. Even if you don't have tickets, Melbourne is a great place to be when the Open is on.
INSIDER TIP When booking seats for Rod Laver arena, take note of where the sun will be shining – it's a much less comfortable day if Melbourne turns on the heat.
ESSENTIALS Tickets for the 2016 tournament will be on sale soon, starting from about $35. See ausopen.com.
FIFA WORLD CUP FINAL
July 15, 2018
WHY GO The most-watched sporting event in the world is one that should be on every sports fan's bucket list.
WATCHING BRIEF While FIFA has been gaining attention for all the wrong reasons lately, nothing can detract from the exhilaration of a World Cup. Everything builds to this. Fours years of competition between almost every nation in the world. Months of warm-up matches, then group games, plus quarter-finals and semi-finals, all culminate in this one amazing spectacle. Superstars put their reputations on the line. Fans spend their life savings on the chance to see it. Every final is different, from the nation and venue playing host to the teams that will take part and, if Russia's effort in hosting the 2014 Winter Olympics is anything to go by, the World Cup final will be one impressive spectacle.
INSIDER TIP It's a huge financial commitment to go to any World Cup, particularly one so far away – if you want to go, put a savings plan together now.
ESSENTIALS For the latest ticketing news, check fifa.com/worldcup.
POLO IN PALERMO
Buenos Aires, Argentina
November 12 – December 12, 2015
WHY GO No one does the gentile sport of polo quite like the Argentineans, who gather each year for the unofficial world cup in Palermo.
WATCHING BRIEF It's the perfect antidote to the roar and the emotion of football in Argentina: polo. The nation's second-favourite sport is also its most genteel, and there's no better time or place to witness it than during the 122-year-old Campeonato Argentino Abierto at the polo fields in the Buenos Aires suburb of Palermo. Picture the Melbourne Cup, only without the drunken late-afternoon antics: Argentina's high society, as well as a host of international visitors, hanging around in grandstands and marquees drinking champagne while the best polo players in the world do whatever it is they do out on the field. The real attraction is on the sidelines.
INSIDER TIP To do the Argentine Open in style, VIP passes are available. Email email@example.com to register your interest.
ESSENTIALS Tickets are yet to be released; they usually cost between $20 and $100. See aapolo.com.
10 MORE MUST-SEE EVENTS
NETBALL WORLD CUP FINAL
August 16, 2015
Given their recent form, their home-ground advantage and the fact they're defending champions, it's pretty reasonable to expect that the Australian team will be taking the court this August for the final of Netball World Cup.
MORE INFO nwc2015.com.au
ASHES TEST MATCH
Cricket's most historic ground hosts the game's most famous series once again this year, as Australia take on England in the second Test of the 2015 Ashes series. For every cricket fan, a trip to Lord's is a pilgrimage worth undertaking.
MORE INFO cricket.com.au
RUGBY WORLD CUP FINAL
October 31, 2015
While there's a good chance the Wallabies will be watching from their lounge rooms, there's still every reason to attend the pinnacle of world rugby. Twickenham will be full to capacity as the tournament comes to its inevitable conclusion: New Zealand winning.
MORE INFO rugbyworldcup.com
HAWAIIAN TRIPLE CROWN OF SURFING
November 12 – December 20, 2015
This three-pronged event – back-to-back surfing contests at Haleiwa Ali'i, Sunset and Banzai Pipeline beaches – offers spectators the best of both worlds: the chance to see the world's finest surfers in action, and to hang out on Hawaii's North Shore.
MORE INFO vanstriplecrownofsurfing.com
Buenos Aires, Argentina
Throughout the year
There's nothing that can compare to the atmosphere during a "superclasico", the clash between Boca Juniors and River Plate, at La Bombonera in Buenos Aires, when a country grounds to a halt, a city holds its breath, and a stadium erupts with fervour.
MORE INFO espnfc.com
AFL GRAND FINAL
October 3, 2015
There's no doubt that finals is a special time for any Australian sports fan. It doesn't even matter who's playing; the MCG will always be packed on Grand Final day, the atmosphere will be electric, and Melbourne will be abuzz.
MORE INFO afl.com.au
THE OPEN CHAMPIONSHIP
St Andrews, Scotland
July 16 – 19, 2015
This great golf tournament returns to its traditional home of the Old Course of St Andrews in 2015, and you can expect the galleries to be packed as fans come to watch Rory McIlroy, Jordan Spieth and Adam Scott battle for bragging rights.
MORE INFO theopen.com
Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
August 5 – 21, 2016
This four-yearly sporting feast heads to Rio in 2016 and there's still time to book tickets. From the traditional highlight of the men's 100-metre sprint final to oddities like Greco-Roman wrestling, there's bound to be something for everyone in Rio.
MORE INFO rio2016.com
24 HOURS OF LE MANS
Le Mans, France
For both motor-racing competitors and the people who come to watch them, this is the ultimate test: 24 hours of endurance around the track at Le Mans, France. There's a carnival atmosphere in the grounds, with tents pitched and champagne served.
MORE INFO 24h-lemans.com
November 3, 2015
Off the track, the race that stops a nation can be as trashy as it is elegant, with champagne picnics inevitably morphing into high heels in hands and a stop at 7Eleven for a meat pie. Melbourne Cup day, however, is a cultural phenomenon that transcends the sport everyone is supposed be watching.
MORE INFO flemington.com.au
FIVE CULTURAL EVENTS YOU SHOULDN'T MISS
Not into sport? There are still some amazing events to attend worldwide
Pentecost Island, Vanuatu
April to June each year
Local tribesmen appease the gods (and prove their manliness) on Pentecost Island by climbing a large wooden tower and leaping off, with only a vine tied to their legs to stop them crashing to the ground.
MORE INFO vanuatu.travel
Rio de Janeiro
February 5 – February 10, 2016
Whether you're enjoying this spectacular parade from the packed grandstands or from the streets as part of a samba club, there's little that can rival the hedonism of Carnival in Rio de Janeiro.
MORE INFO rio-carnival.net
August 2 – 9, annually
Huge, brightly coloured floats, some up to 10 metres high, are paraded through the streets of Aomori during Nebuta Matsuri, a festival in which spectators can participate, dancing next to the floats and chanting through the night.
MORE INFO jnto.org.au
February or March, annually
The Colour Run has got nothing on this. The Hindu spring festival of Holi is an annual celebration that involves huge numbers of people taking to the streets and dousing each other in coloured dyes and water. Wear old clothes.
MORE INFO incredibleindia.org
DIA DE LOS MUERTOS
October 31 – November 2, annually
The "Day of the Dead" celebrations throughout Mexico are a ghoulish sight to behold, as locals take to the streets in costume before moving on to the cemeteries to sit by the graves of lost loved ones and celebrate their lives.
Three sports bosses talk about their favourite events.
WHO Bill Pulver, CEO, Australian Rugby Union
What's great about your event: "The Bledisloe Cup stands alone as the greatest national sporting rivalry for Australia, in my view, because this is an annual contest. Australia and New Zealand are close neighbours and allies and have gone in to battle together as nations, but in the rugby arena there are no fiercer rivals."
Best event you've been to: "The Sydney 2000 Olympic Games. There has never been an event, in sport or otherwise, which captured the nation quite like it. Besides the performance of our athletes and how magnificently the event was run, it was the effect that the Games had of galvanising the Australian people that made it a truly significant event."
Event you'd love to attend: "Along with this year's Rugby World Cup, it's Rio 2016, where Sevens Rugby will make its Olympic debut. Our women's sevens team became the first-ever female side to qualify for the Olympic Games; our men's team still has some work to do to get there, but we are certain both teams will be in with a strong chance of a podium finish."
WHO David Gallop, CEO, Football Federation Australia
What's great about your event: "The unique atmosphere generated by our fans on a weekly basis goes up a notch on Grand Final day. Two sets of fans cheering for their teams, the noise, the colour, the passion, the way the fans celebrate a goal. These things are special about football around the world."
Best event you've been to: "That stands out for me was the Super Bowl in Detroit in 2006. Not just the hype around the game but the huge week of activities, with the game played in a state-of-the-art indoor stadium and the Rolling Stones playing at half-time. It was massive."
Event you'd love to attend: "I've always wanted to see the final of the Pipe Masters in Hawaii. I love my surfing and the Pipe Masters is the spiritual home and usually sees the crowning of a world champion."
WHO David Smith, CEO, National Rugby League
What's great about your event: "If you ask the players and fans what they want most out of the season it's usually a Grand Final win. It's something special … and something even some of our greatest players never achieve. That's why there is so much emotion and pride when a team wins the title."
Best event you've been to: "The Super Bowl. It's probably the biggest annual sporting event in the world and engages such a huge fan base. Hundreds of millions of people watch it on TV. So to actually be there was a real experience."
Event you'd love to attend: "The Monaco Grand Prix. Again, it's one of the big international sporting events of the year and has such a great history."
Ben Groundwater is an avid sports fan who has spent much more money than he really should have going to events such as Wimbledon, English Premier League and Champions League football matches, Major League Baseball, the US Open, and a cricket Test between India and Australia in Mumbai. His all-time highlight is seeing the Boca Juniors football club play in Buenos Aires.