Photo credit: CC BY-SA 3.0 Germany / GFDL (World Chess Boxing Organisation, 2008)
Some folks place more importance on numbers, that’s really just how we are wired. For sports jocks, it’s pretty much about the right channel, how to time our toilet breaks, and how much to pay that colleague for that disastrous scoreline last night. But sometimes, all we really want to care about is the fashion or gadget shopping budget to set aside in order to convince our other halves to accompany us to bask in the fever pitch excitement at the actual venue of the tournament. And what time to arrive, of course.
FEBRUARY/MARCH: Winter sporting fun
Being stuck in a year-round tropical climate is great motivation to seek out wintry landscapes. Holidaying in winter is a perfect opportunity to experience and satisfy our curiosity in winter sports, and what better place to start off the year’s vacationing than Sochi, the Russian host city of the 2014 Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games.
A ski resort located along the coast of the Black Sea, Sochi will be the centre of attention from 7th to 23rd February. There, the best athletes from all over the world will execute their moves with finesse in a myriad of winter sports, ranging from team events such as curdling, short track and ice hockey, to outdoor events such as alpine skiing, snowboarding, bobsleighing and ski jumping. Watch the games at Sochi’s state-of-the-art sporting venues such as the Iceberg Skating Palace and the Ice Cube Curling Centre; also worth attending are the opening and closing ceremonies that are typically grand artistic spectacles showcasing the best of the host country. The ceremonies will be held at the newly constructed Fisht Olympic Stadium, which will also be the venue of the 2018 FIFA World Cup.
Besides watching the Olympics, hit the slopes at the new Gornaya Karusel ski resort and visit Sochi’s various attractions, such as the Singing Fountains at the city centre, the Riviera Park designed for the Tsar, and Stalin’s summer residence. The nearby Sochi National Park (Sochinsky National Park) is also a nice hiking destination, with numerous caves, waterfalls, canyons and mineral springs to explore. Beyond Sochi, pay a visit to Moscow and St. Petersburg known for their magnificent palaces and colourful churches.
Fans of figure skating or those who want to avoid Russia might opt instead for Saitama, Japan, where the World Figure Skating Championships will be held 26th till 30th March. An annual competition held in various countries across the world, the championship is the most prestigious in the sport sanctioned by the International Skating Union. Expect to see some of the world’s best figure skaters such as Kim Yuna and Mao Asada compete — and perform — at the Saitama Super Arena.
Beyond the rink, the Japanese city has been used as the setting for several anime such as Crayon Shinchan and Lucky Star, and the Saitama prefecture also boasts attractions such as the Saitama Railway Museum, Hikawa Shrine, Oshi Castle, and Nakagawa Yashio Flower Park. Tokyo, about an hour away by rail, is near enough as a base for more shopping, dining and nightlife options; skiing is possible at some of the nearby ski resorts at Mount Fuji and Yuzawa, while revered onsens can be found at Hakone and Kusatsu.
MAY/JUNE: Summer ball of a time
This June, football fans from around the world will convene in Brazil for what could easily be the most talked-about soccer event of the year — the 2014 FIFA World Cup. Rather than jostle with the crowd there for tickets and accommodation where prices have been skyrocketing, soccer fans might want to consider heading to Lisbon, Portugal, for the UEFA Champions League Final instead. The final showdown is slated for 24th May, but online ticket sales will begin in March, giving you ample time to start making preparations. Depending on the fortunes of the competing teams, the final match could be a nail-biting one between previous champions such as Real Madrid and A.C. Milan or even a dark horse. Consider flying in earlier as the finals of the UEFA Europa League and the UEFA Women’s Championship League will also take place in Lisbon on 14th and 22nd May, respectively.
The capital city of Portugal and one of the oldest cities in the world, Lisbon boasts many enchanting and historic monuments and museums such as the iconic Belem Tower and Jerónimos Monastery, both designated UNESCO World Heritage Sites. That’s not all — Lisbon also has a thriving jazz scene and vibrant nightlife with many pubs and nightclubs at the Bairro Alto area.
June is also the time for one of the major events in the golfing cycle — the U.S. Open. Known as one of the most difficult golf championships due to tough courses that demand acute precision, the 2014 U.S. Open will be an exciting watch for spectators as the best golfers maneuver their way across each challenging hole. The championship is scheduled from 9th to 22nd June at Pinehurst Resort in North Carolina, USA, a luxury resort that once held the Guinness World Record for being the largest in the world and has played host to several prestigious golf tournaments in the past.
The state of North Carolina comprises 100 counties, providing many sightseeing options including Biltmore House at Asheville, a Châteauesque-style mansion and also the largest private home in the country; the Hendrick Motorsports Complex at Charlotte, a museum dedicated to the NASCAR racing team; and the Battleship North Carolina at Wilmington, a warship that survived the World War II and has since been converted into a museum.
JULY or SEPTEMBER/OCTOBER: Crossing borders
Game for a longer trip? How about following the Tour de France, the world’s oldest and most prestigious cycling competition, where more than 100 cyclists peddle across thousands of kilometers, scale mountains and cross national borders to compete for the grand prize each year.
The 2014 Tour de France will flag off in Leeds, England, on 5th July, before heading southwards towards Paris in France, passing through the French towns of Reims, Nancy and more, and also making short rides into neighbouring Belgium and Spain. Unlike other major sporting events, the Tour de France is absolutely free with no purchase of tickets required – just simply grab a good standing spot along the racing route, preferably near one of the large TV screens so that you can better follow the race. If you prefer to watch the race in greater comfort, there is ticketed grandstand seating too.
Other than watching the race for the competition, part of the excitement is seeing the race juxtaposed against the picture-postcard scenery and visiting towns along the way. Following all 21 stages of the race that concludes on 27th July may prove too much of a hassle for a tourist, so zoom in on a mix of the major and minor towns making sure to coincide your visit with some race dates. In between races, one can pop by the imposing York Minster in York, tour the old universities and chapels in Cambridge, go shopping in London and Paris, and explore the ancient UNESCO World Heritage Sites in the French towns of Carcassonne and Besançon.
A great alternative to transcending geographical and cultural boundaries is the 2014 Asian Games in Incheon, South Korea, which brings together athletes of various sporting fields from across Asia. From 19th September to 4th October, more than 40 Asian countries including Singapore will be competing in 437 events for the coveted gold medals.
While not cheering on competitors, explore the various attractions of Incheon, such as Chinatown, the shopping district of Bupyeong, the Liberty Park and Independence Memorial Hall dedicated to the Korean War, and Wolmido Island. For more sightseeing and entertainment choices, the country’s capital Seoul is just a stone’s throw away from Incheon.
NOVEMBER/DECEMBER: Serious sport, serious fun
Seen enough of the weekend horse races at the Singapore Turf Club? While horse racing events in Singapore are mostly frequented by punters and the elite, the prestigious Melbourne Cup Carnival in Melbourne, Australia is widely attended by more than 100,000 people each year and touted as the “race that stops a nation”. One of the most significant equestrian races in the world with a jaw-dropping A$6.2 million as winnings, the Melbourne Cup Carnival is a week-long event comprising of several races, of which the day of the Emirates Melbourne Cup is a national public holiday, a testament to the sheer importance of the sporting event.
To be held from 1st to 8th November this year at the Flemington Racecourse, each race day of the carnival is assigned an official flower ranging from a corn flower to pink and red roses that can be bought at the carnival. The Melbourne Cup Carnival stands out for being more than an equestrian race about high stakes and horse power, but a family event with a touch of fun and glamour. On the respective race days, spectators show up in their most flamboyant costumes with colourful dresses, over-sized headdresses and peacock feathers, with some going on to participate in the Myers Fashion on the Field competition held on the sidelines of the races. On the final day, also known as Family Day, the Flemington Racecourse takes on a true carnival spirit with live performances, children activities, and the Fashion on the Field competition for families to strut their stuff on the fashion catwalk for prizes.
Halfway across the globe, December marks the end of a season of a sport with a creative twist — chess boxing. As absurd as it may sound, chess boxing is indeed a sport combining boxing and chess, and is steadily growing in popularity. The international chessboxing season climax will commence at the Scala nightclub in London on 13th December, where two chess boxers will face off in 11 alternate rounds of boxing and chess-playing in a test of wits and brawn. Unlike traditional chess or boxing tournaments that can drag on for a long time, each round in chess boxing only lasts three to four minutes, making the game a fast-paced one to watch. The unique combination originated from a comic book and was first introduced in Berlin, but the hybrid sport has since taken root in London, with similar events held in countries such as India, Russia, Tokyo and Los Angeles. Grab the opportunity to be one of the very first people to witness this curious sporting event before the rest of the world catches on.