World Sports

Some of the oldest competitions take us on a global tour…and anyone can play.

Fall kicks off sports season and most Raleighites will be tuning into the NFL and college football. But have you ever heard of Aussie Rules football? Or hurling? Raleigh is home to a thriving international sports scene featuring some of the most popular and oldest sports around the globe.

After soccer, cricket is the second most popular sport globally, with 2.5 billion viewers, compared to American footballs 400 million, and it’s quickly growing in the Triangle too.

In fact some of these sports are growing in popularity so much include the teams are no longer made up of expats but of native North Carolinians.

“When we first started the club, it was about two-thirds Irish, and most of the remainder were of Irish decent. But since then it’s about a quarter Irish, and three-quarters are American,” says John McNealey, Chairman of the Raleigh Gaelic Athletic Association, of hurling, one of the oldest sports in Ireland. Indeed, it’s been around for about 3,000 years and predates Christianity. Hurling (pictured below) is a hybrid of baseball and lacrosse, played on a rugby pitch locally.

“You can catch it in your hand and hit it while running with a stick,” says McNealey.

“It’s a fast game. It’s been called the fastest sport on grass so if you like a lot of action and some big hits you’ll probably enjoy watching it. It’s not like American football where they lumber around,” says GAA promoter Andy Sterling, who was attracted to the sport because he played lacrosse.

Anyone interested in learning the sport is encouraged to join: “Within a week or two weeks you’ll be playing. It doesn’t matter your talent or fitness,” says McNealey. But don’t underestimate the team’s athleticism; it is amongst the best in the southeast, with several members representing the world team abroad. If you’re curious, you can watch the team practice on Wednesdays and Sundays at the Poole Road Rugby Complex.

Indeed, Raleigh boasts a large rugby complex and its club is celebrating more than 35 years in the Triangle. Not only does the sport continue to grow locally, it’s grown dramatically in popularity with women. Venom, the women’s team, started in 2002, and since then its proved to be a major force. The team has won four National Championships since 2005 at the Division II level and recently moved up to USA Rugby’s Mid-Atlantic Senior Women’s Division South for the start of the 2015-2016 season.

“It’s the fastest growing sport in America,” says Adrienne Bryant, one of Raleigh Rugby’s board members. “We are open to anyone who wants to try out. It’s a welcoming environment; you can come to three or four practices (on Tuesdays and Thursdays at 7 p.m.) and see if you’re interested. We are offering free youth touch rugby, too.“

Around the World in Five Sports

Rugby

Where: United Kingdom

Est. 1823

What: A precursor to American football, players gain ground by kicking or running the ball but cannot pass the oval shaped ball forward.

Aussie Rules Football

Where: Australia

Est. Mid 19th-century

What: A faster-paced version of rugby played on an oval with more players. The ball can be passed in any direction.

Cricket

Where: United Kingdom & India

Est. 13th century & 16th century

What: Players use a bat to hit a ball similar to American baseball. However, instead of a diamond, the game has two sets of wickets between which the players run back and forth. The game is the second most popular sport in the world.

Hurling

Where: Ireland

Est. 1272 BC

What: One of the oldest sports in the world (it predates Christianity), it’s a fast paced competition similar to a hybrid of lacrosse and baseball.

Jai Alai

Where: Basque (Spain)

Est. 14th century

What: Similar to racquetball, players use a type of basket called the cesta to catch and hurl the ball against a wall, bouncing on the floor in a specific location.

Alexandra Drosu
Alexandra Drosu

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