Experience the Culture of Jamaica Through Sports
By Maureen Wright-Evans
Sport is the fire that lights the Jamaican people and has always been important in their lives. To some it helps to make the hardships of life more bearable, and many poor athletes dream of climbing the economic ladder of life through the sport of his choice.
Can you picture going to a sports event that is like a carnival? If you can then this is what attending a football (soccer), cricket, or track and field event is like. These are the top sports played in Jamaica, but you can find many others. If you are a lover of sports and want to understand how Jamaicans take a sport and make it into a party, consider visiting the island during the season of your favourite sport.
Football is arguably the top sport in Jamaica, and because of the easy access to a playing field, players everywhere can be seen enjoying this sport. This game was introduced to Jamaica in the eighteenth century by the British troops who were sent to the colony to keep peace. Regiments would play against each other, and soon the game spread all over the island.
Today football is played at every level in the island. If you are interested in school-boy football, the time to be in Jamaica is from September to November. During this season, the Manning and Dacosta Cup competitions are played. Here you'll find the top players in schools, accompanied by the passion of the spectators, who cheer as if their very life depended on winning.
At the highest level are matches organized by Jamaica Football Federation and played by the premier team, the Reggae Boyz. In 1998, pandemonium broke out in every corner of Jamaica when the Reggae Boyz qualified for the first time in the finals of the Football World Cup. Since then, huge followers have developed around football, and the carnival-like atmosphere at the games make them feel more like a great party than just a game.
Cricket was first played in Jamaica by only the rich and elite. Today Jamaicans of every background enjoy this game, which is also popular all over the West Indies. Jamaicans are passionate about cricket and at venues around the island, you can hear Reggae music and see people drinking the popular Red Stripe Beer.
During cricket season, Jamaicans are infected with cricket. Small groups can be seen hovering around radios in shops, in bars, and on the street corners. The causal observer can often hear groaning and moaning when a team has lost. Sometimes this is interspersed with shouts of glee and dancing when a player scores. Even if you do not understand the game of cricket, it is an exciting and thrilling experience just watching the carnival-like atmosphere.
Track and Field
The question has been asked over and over: "Why do Jamaicans run so fast?" Some say it's the yams we eat, others say it is the mountainous terrain of the island, and many say it is the competitive spirit of the people. No one is sure of the answer, but one thing is certain: if there is a track and field event anywhere in the world, a Jamaican is sure to be among the medal winners.
Jamaica's finest hour in track and field was at the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing, China. With a population of only 2.8 million, this island was celebrating its new status as the fastest nation in the world. Pandemonium first broke when Usain Bolt broke the world record and became the fastest man alive. The next day, Shelley-Ann Fraser led a trio of Jamaicans for a clean sweep in the 100-meter women's finals. It was the first time in the history of the Olympics that one country had ever swept the women's 100-meter race.
If you love track and field and want to see the best events, the time to visit is from February through June. In March, you can see the Boys and Girls Championship, held at the National Stadium in Kingston. With the top schools around the island competing, chanting and beating drums combined with nail-biting races, you can experience track and field like no other in the world.
There are many other sports played in Jamaica, and although they're not as popular as football, cricket, and track and field, they still have a huge following. Some of these are basketball, tennis, golf, horse racing, and swimming. Attending any of these events will be a different experience too. Everywhere you go, there will be the sound of reggae music playing. Be prepared to see "jerk" stalls scattered all over the grounds with spectators busy sampling or nibbling at a piece of the popular jerked chicken. For players and fans, it is not just a game of sport, but a great big party.
If you have never considered visiting Jamaica as a sports player or spectator, then it's something to plan around your next trip. There are many opportunities available to enjoy your sport and see how Jamaicans make it different.
Maureen Wright-Evans is the CEO of Jamaica Adventure Secrets - a company that specializes in packages designed for the Ultimate Authentic Jamaica Experience. Find out how YOU can have the adventure of your life or experience a volunteer vacation: www.jamaicaadventuresecrets.com
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Views expressed in the article are those of the author and are not necessarily the opinions of CaribbeanChoice, its staff or members.