This summer will witness two of the biggest events in global sport: the Summer Olympics and football’s European Championship. However, we wanted to shine a light on some of the less well-known tournaments that many sports fans may not even have heard of.
We’ve picked out three individual sporting championships and three multi-sport events that were of particular interest.
Real Tennis World Championship
The original sport that modern tennis is derived from, “real tennis” first became popular in the 16th century, with the English king Henry VIII a keen player. The men’s singles is considered to be the first world championship in any sport, dating all the way back to 1740. The game is played indoors on a hard surface with many more markings than a standard tennis court and has more complex rules.
Just like its modern counterpart, it is dominated by a small group of players. The reigning men’s and women’s singles champions are married to each other and have won 29 titles between them across singles and doubles.
Military World Games
First held in 1995 as a multi-sport event for military sportspeople, like the Olympics it has both summer and winter versions which are held every four years. The most recent summer event in 2019 featured a total of 316 events across 27 different sports, with over 9,000 athletes from more than 140 nations participating.
Underwater Hockey World Championships
Hockey is one of many sports to have spawned a popular underwater version, which was invented in the 1950s and involves a puck being moved along the bottom of a swimming pool by two teams of six players with four rotating substitutes. Players aren’t allowed to use any breathing apparatus besides a mask and snorkel – meaning that they have to hold their breath – and their sticks are only 35cm long.
World Air Games
Also inspired by the Olympic Games, the World Air Games is a multi-event competition for aerial sport. There have been four previous editions, with Turkey hosting the first in 1997, attracting over 3,000 participants from 60 countries. At the most recent staging in 2015, there were a total of 41 events covering a range of disciplines such as skydiving, paragliding, aerobatics and drone racing.
World Handball Championship
Handball is played by two teams of seven players who try to score goals by throwing a ball into their opponents’ goal. Most people encounter it once every four years at the Summer Olympics, but the sport is widely popular and has contested its own world championships since 1938. These are far from niche events: in 2021, both the men’s and women’s tournaments will feature 32 national teams, expanded from 24 in 2019.
The World Games were established in 1981 to accommodate sports which are widely played throughout the world but not included in the Olympic Games. Held every four years – one year after the latest Summer Olympics – the games mirror the format of their more illustrious counterpart.
Taking place over an 11-day period, the most recent tournament in 2017 saw a total of 201 events across 31 different sports. Some of the more unfamiliar events include billiards, canoe polo, tug of war and fistball.
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