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Popular and Unique International Sports You Won’t Want to Miss

by AIFS Abroad
Cricket player holding up bat

Last Updated on November 21, 2023 by AIFS Abroad

Even if you’re not an international sports fan, one of the best ways to immerse yourself in a country’s culture when you’re studying or interning abroad is to attend a sporting event. There’s nothing more unifying than hearing (and feeling) the crowd cheer for the hometown team in their own unique way. That moment when a goal is scored, and the crowd is going wild? It instantly makes you feel part of the city, even as a visitor. 

Here are some unique international sports in some of our program locations that get the crowd going: 

1. Australian Rules Football – Australia 

Commonly referred to as “Aussie rules” or “footy,” Australian football has 18 club teams including the Sydney Swans and the West Coast Eagles (if you’re studying abroad in Perth, that’s your team!). Australian football looks a little like rugby, but it’s not quite the same. First of all, the teams play on an oval field vs. a rectangular one, often a modified cricket ground. Instead of proper goals, players kick the ball between two large posts to score and there’s no throwing allowed. The AFL (Australian Football League) has the highest spectator attendance and viewership in Australia, so visitors to the country would be wise to learn a bit about it, if only just for small talk purposes.

AIFS Abroad student Jasmin goes to her first Australian Football League (AFL) game in Perth

2. Hurling – Ireland 

Although it looks like a combination of rugby, field hockey and soccer, hurling is a Gaelic sport that has been played for thousands of years in Ireland. Basically, helmeted players wield an ash wood stick called a “hurley” and use it to hit a small ball, called the sliotar, between two goal posts. If they get it over the crossbar, they get one point. If they get it under the crossbar into a net guarded by a goalkeeper, they get three points. As far as international sports go, it’s considered to have the fastest game play, so pay attention when you’re cheering on Dublin, Galway, Limerick or Maynooth

3. Fútbol – Spain 

Soccer is played around the world, but in Spain, Fútbol is on a whole other level. Particularly in Barcelona, where one of the world’s best teams makes their homes in Europe’s largest stadium, Camp Nou. Fútbol fandom isn’t really a choice when it comes to living in Spain, so be sure to learn a few of your home city’s players. 

AIFS Abroad student at an FC Barcelona soccer game in Spain
AIFS Abroad student at an FC Barcelona soccer game

4. Calcio Fiorentino – Florence, Italy 

If you’re studying or interning abroad in Florence, you have to go to the pitch to see this sport in action. Created sometime between the 14th and 16th centuries, it was reorganized in the 1930s and three matches a year are played to this day. It appears to be a violent mix of soccer, rugby and MMA. A team from each quartiere is represented, with four teams total. The yearly final is held on San Giovanni on June 24th, so if you’re in town, be there! 

5. Baseball – New York City, USA

Baseball is America’s pastime. The New York Yankees are one of the most iconic American baseball teams of all time, so you’re going to intern in New York and not see the Yanks? Fuhgeddaboudit! Yankee Stadium has its own dedicated subway stop on 161st Street, serving the 4, B, and D trains. The Yankees were formed in 1903 and are perennially the leaders in game attendance, so make sure you get your tickets ahead of time. Don’t worry too much though, there’s around 80 games per year! 

6. Handball – Paris, France 

While soccer is the most popular sport in France, handball is almost as popular in the city of Paris. Handball is pretty much what you played in gym, only professionalized. The French National Handball Team is regarded as one of the world’s best, winning the gold medal in the Summer Olympics in 2008, 2012 and 2021. While you’re studying or interning abroad in Paris, make sure you see a Paris Saint-Germain handball club match.  

7. Cricket – London, England 

England’s second most popular sport is cricket — two teams of 11 taking turns to bat and attempt to score runs, much like baseball, only with wickets at each end instead of 3 bases. This sport originated in the 16th century and has been delighting English fans since then. On a sunny weekend in London, there’s nothing better than kicking back and watching one of the many club teams play. 

If you’re studying abroad or interning in an international city, there’s no better way to get to the heart of the culture than through its sports teams. 

As they say, when in Rome, do as the Romans do. Even if you aren’t super into international sports, you can’t deny their impact and importance to a city. AIFS Abroad offers study and intern abroad programs in all the above destinations and more! 

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