Soccer, soccer, soccer. Or—if you must—football, football, football. (As an aside, please do not get Mario started on this topic about the inane naming of a sport where you hardly use your feet.)
Living in Spain means being constantly surrounded by the sport and custom football team uniforms. I tried to resist, but resistance is futile. Grin and bear it until your grin is no longer fake. Empecé a cogerle cariño (I started to almost like it) in the summer of 2010, when Spain was fighting to win its first World Cup title. Iniesta, you changed my life. I do love the Spanish national team, but when it comes to La Liga or la Champion’s, you can count me out.
Besides, I’m a Hoosier. We eat, sleep, drink, and dream basketball.
But—believe it or not!—there are other sports in Spain. Let’s take a look at some of the most popular.
Motorsports include Formula One, IndyCar, Stock Car (see: NASCAR), Motocross, and all other sorts of racing involving motorized vehicles. In Spain, the most popular ones are Formula 1 and some involving motorcyles (e.g., MotoGP).
Some of the most famous Spanish athletes in this category include: Fernando Alonso, a Formula One driver (piloto, as they in Spanish), a two-time World Champion, who races for Ferrari; Jorge Lorenzo, a motorcycle road racer and World Champion in 250cc and MotoGP; and Dani Pedrosa, a Grand Prix motorcycle racer and champion in 250cc Grands Prix.
People do like basketball in Spain, and the NBA is very popular here, sometimes even more popular than back at home. (In Indiana, we’re college-basketball fans.) Sometimes when I mention that I’m from Indiana, someone will excitedly shout at me, “Indiana Pacers!” There is also a Spanish league, called La Liga ACB, and it’s regulated by the International Basketball Federation (FIBA from its name in French). This league is regulated quite differently from the NBA and is populated by many Americans who weren’t quite good enough to make it back home as well as others who desire to play in the competitive European leagues.
The Spanish league competes to win the Copa del Rey, the King’s Cup, (just like in the soccer league) as well as in the Euroleague.
Some Spanish-basketball-player names you may recognize:
Pau Gasol, who plays for the Los Angeles Lakers, is four-time NBA All-Star and has won two NBA championships with the Lakers.
Ricky Rubio, who plays for Minnesota Timberwolves, was the youngest player ever to play in the Spanish league at age 14. He was drafted by the Timberwolves in 2009, and thus became the first player born in the 1990s to drafted by the NBA.
Serge Ibaka, who plays for Oklahoma City Thunder (formerly the Seattle Supersonics), is a Spanish player who was born in the Republic of the Congo. He is the third youngest of eighteen (!) siblings.
Perhaps the biggest reason tennis is so popular is Rafa Nadal, considered to be the best Spanish tennis player of all time.
Rafa, also known as “The King of Clay” for his incredible success on clay courts, is only 26 years old, but has won eleven Grand Slam singles titles (including seven French Open titles) and an Olympic gold medal in singles in 2008. His success, charisma, and general likability have turned him into the singular reason for the sport’s popularity in Spain.
Futsal (fútbol sala) is like soccer, but played indoors on a smaller field. Its name comes from the Portuguese futebol de salão, “hall football.” Spain’s team has won the FIFA Futsal World Cup twice and the UEFA Futsal Championship six times, making it second after Brazil.
Perhaps the most surprising of all to me, handball (balonmano) is quite popular around the country. In handball, two teams of seven players pass the ball (with their hands, surprise surprise!) in order to score a goal. There are two thirty-minute halves. Goals are scored quite frequently, and the game moves fast, making it enjoyable to watch.
In 2013, Spain won the World Men’s Handball Championship, defeating Denmark 35–19.
Cycling is also quite popular here, and has been since the mid-1900s. The Vuelta a España, or Tour of Spain, is one of the most important events in the cycling world alongside the famous Tour de France and Giro d’Italia.
The Tour de France is unquestionably the most famous of the three, and there have been Spanish champions, including Federico Bahamontes, Luis Ocaña, Pedro Delgado, Óscar Pereiro, Alberto Contador, and Carlos Sastre. But perhaps the most famous is Miguel Indurain, who won for five years running between 1991 and 1995 and held the record until broken by Lance Armstrong. (This is not to say there hasn’t been cycling controversy here the same as in the US.)
Miguel Indurain in 1996
So there you have it. Spain: it’s not all about football. (But it is mainly about football. No denying it.)