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Sports World

A series of visual guides

Peoples around the world have for centuries devised games and other activities as a way to celebrate the fruits of their labor, share time with clan or community members, demonstrate prowess, or simply spend spare time enjoyably. Today many sports are gaining global popularity, but there remains a rich diversity of recreational activities. Here is a look at some favorites in different parts of the world.


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One of the most popular recreational activities is a slow-moving martial art called tai chi chuan. Rooted in Taoist culture, tai chi combines slow physical movements with an emphasis on breathing and concentration. Ping-Pong and badminton have been recreational sports for decades. Pool and bowling are on the rise. Participation in the traditional sport of kite-flying is declining. Older couples like to dance the tango and waltz in public areas. Recreational sports are not important in rural regions, but the many different ethnic groups in China participate in traditional dances.


Iceland makes use of its active volcanoes to pump underground thermal water into outdoor swimming pools, which helps make swimming, surprisingly, the most common recreational activity. Downhill and cross-country skiing and horseback riding are also popular.


Most Swedes are sports lovers. In fact, the mottoes of Swedish sports are "Sport for Youth" and "Sport for All." Soccer is No. 1, and tennis has long been popular. Jogging was favored here long before it began to gain global interest three decades ago. Cross-country and downhill skiing, long-distance skating, sailing, and "keep-fit" exercises to music are common activities.


Soccer is the main participatory sport in Ghana, though basketball has caught on in major cities. Traditional dances are also popular activities for many, especially in rural areas.

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Kite-flying is a favorite pastime. Takraw is one of the most prominent Asian sports. Its origins are vague, but the men of Laos, Burma, Cambodia, Thailand, and Malaysia have kicked some kind of wicker ball around for hundreds of years. The use of hands is taboo. A small ball of woven rattan, plastic, or wicker is used to play different variations of the game, which can involve scoring into hoops or over nets called sepak takraw, and a degree of skill in juggling.


The No. 1 recreational sport in Jamaica is ... no, not bobsledding, but cricket, followed closely by soccer, and track and field. Walking, jogging, and running have become increasingly common.


Children in Canada are almost ice skating before they walk. Ice hockey is the most popular sport here, followed by cross-country and downhill skiing. But broomball (like hockey but played in "sandshoes" or sneakers, instead of skates) and curling are Canadian favorites.


The people of the Arabian peninsula have enjoyed recreational sports for thousands of years. Though soccer is now the No. 1 activity, falconry is a traditional sport with a long history here. Horse racing and camel racing are even more popular today than they were in the past. Saudis also enjoy walking, swimming, fishing, and a variety of water activities.


Soccer comes in first here, including the new trend of girls' and women's soccer leagues. Basketball is No. 2, and volleyball is gaining rapidly. An increasingly popular beach sport is futvolei (foot-volley), the South American version of sepak takraw (see Thailand).


Although soccer enjoys the greatest participation, enthusiasm for baseball sets this South American country apart. Many towns also close off streets for in-line skating, joggers, and biking.


Football, basketball, and baseball are big here, and the world's most popular sport, soccer, is now winning converts. Interest in golf continues to grow. Other popular activities are tennis, skiing, and in-line skating. Fitness has become a recreational obsession, and many enjoy jogging and walking. And there are newer sports on the horizon - mountain-biking and extreme sports, such as sky boarding.

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