Soccer is certainly the most popular, tennis could be said to produce the most delight among fans, while it is rodeo, the national sport since 1962, which rescues and preserves rural traditions. Within a ring, known as a “medialuna, (or halfmoon)” horse-riding cowboys or “huasos” must try to detain a young bull. Although the sport receives less press coverage than soccer etc., rodeo consistently draws thousands of fans, particularly in rural areas.
National tennis greats are numerous: Marcelo Ríos, known affectionately as “Chino”, was world number one in 1998, Fernando González has consistently placed in the top ten best players for years and Nicolás Massú won double gold medals at the 2004 Athen Olympics. Classic leading soccer players include Iván Zamorano and Marcelo Salas, key figures in Real Madrid and Juventus, respectively. There have been big success stories in other sports too, Chileans have triumphed in a range of disciplines, a recent example being the win of Ignacio Casale in the 2014 Dakar rally.
Dedicated fans follow all the competitions in which their idols compete. The most popular games, though, are those of the Chilean national soccer team, known as “La Roja.” In a continent where soccer is king, the devotion of Chilean fans exceeds even these high standards. The team drew huge crowds for its qualifying games for the 2006 World Cup in Germany, leading the attendance figures above even Brazil and Argentina, both historic soccer nations with several titles under their belts in the sport’s biggest tournament.
Chile also boasts a strong reputation as a host for major international sporting events. Soccer, particularly, has been a regular feature. The Andean nation hosted the 1962 World Cup, the Youth World Cup in 1987 and the Women’s sub-20 tournament in 2008.
In 2014, the county hosted the South American Games. The multidisciplinary event’s Chile installment was the largest in the competition’s history, bringing 13 countries to Santiago to compete in 42 different sports. The Andean nation then hosted the first ever Para South American Games with great success. Currently, Chile is in the second stage of an ambitious sporting infrastructure project, the Red de Estadios Bicentenarios (Network of Bi-centennial stadiums).
A little history
The pursuit of sports in Chile begins with the games of the country’s indigenous peoples. The Mapuche and Huilliche practised pastimes such as chueca and linao, sports which bear some resemblance to modern hockey and rugby, respectively. Rodeo, the national sport, began to be practiced in the colonial era and is now the number one pastime for the central zone, particularly in rural areas.
In the first Olympic Games of the modern era (Athens 1896), Chile was one of only 13 participating countries and the only Latin American nation to take part. The country’s representative was Luis Subercaseaux, who raced in the 100, 400 and 800 meter sprint.
In 2004, the Olympic Games once again returned to the Greek capital where Chilean tennis star Nicolás Massú won gold in the singles competition. He then went on to win a second gold medal alongside his compatriot Fernando González, who is widely regarded as the most successful Chilean sportsman of recent years.
A passion for soccer
The tradition of soccer in Chile began more than a century ago with British immigrants arriving in the country, particularly in the port city of Valparaíso. The first division Chilean club, Everton, was founded by British immigrants more than a century before. The sport’s status as the unquestioned national passion was confirmed decades later with the rapturous response to the 1962 World Cup.
The Chilean national team — known as “La Roja” in honor of the team’s shirt color —.has had significant success, including a third place finishes in the 1962 World Cup,the 1993 sub-17 tournament and the sub-20 in Canada 2007. Furthermore the team won bronze at the Sydney Olympic Games in 2000.
With the arrival of a new manager, the experimental Argentine Marcelo Bielsa, came a new lease of life for the national soccer team. La Roja qualified for the 2010 World Cup in South Africa and have won many fans and great acclaim in recent years, particularly with the outstanding form shown in Chile’s qualification for Brazil 2014 under the stewardship of Jorge Sampaoli. The national team has enjoyed huge public support throughout with an average of 60,000 fans for each game. As of early 2014, Chile is ranked 15th in the world — out of more than 200 recognized national teams — by international body FIFA.
In local leagues, the most popular clubs are Colo Colo and Universidad de Chile. The former team, which carries the name of a legendary indigenous Mapuche leader, triumphed in the 1991 Copa Libertadores de América, the most important club tournament in South America.
Among the best known classic players is defensive great Elias Figueroa and strikers Iván Zamorano and Marcelo Salas. The former two were highlighted by FIFA as among the 100 best players if the 20th Century, while Salas is the country’s top goalscorer of all time. Today the best known players include Barcelona star Alexis Sanchez and midfielder magician Arturo Vidal.
Tennis is the sport that has brought the most joy to Chilean fans. In 1998, Marcelo Ríos was world number one in the ATP ranking, something that no South American has achieved since. “El Chino” won 18 titles and competed in a further 13 finals on the professional circuit between 1995 and 2001. Other big names include Olympic medallist Fernando González and Nicolás Massú with 11 and six title, respectively.
The success of Chilean players in the game has a long history. In 1937, Anita Lizana won the Forest Hills tournament, a predecessor to the U.S. Open. Luis Ayala reached the finals of the Roland Garros tournament in 1958 and again in 1960. National teams have also had success. In 1976, the Chilean Davis Cup team — Patricio Cornejo, Jaime Fillol and Belus Prajoux — reached the final of the tournament, while in 2003 and 2004 the team won the Team World Cup event held in Düsseldorf.
Physical activity has always been a cornerstone of daily life in Chile. Every weekend, thousands of people play sports, jog, ride bicycles or, in winter, visit one of the country’s numerous ski resorts. The diverse climate, natural reserves and other parks help the country pursue sport to its maximum potential.
When its time to decide on what activity to pursue, there are no limits. Soccer, tennis, rugby, skiing, swimming, golf, extreme sports in the air, on mountains or on water — all can be pursued freely and in prime conditions.
Each region of the country offers ideal conditions for different sporting activities. The north is ideal for high mountain sports and climbing volcanoes. The highest volcano in the word, Ojos del Salado peaks at 6.891 meters above sea level. Other sports on offer in the area include hang gliding, trekking and sandboarding. Meanwhile, on the coast you can find perfect surfing conditions, among the best known sites is the area around Arica which has hosted international tournaments.
During winter, the central regions of the best snowboarding and skiing in the continent. Among the best resorts are Valle Nevado, Portillo and El Colorado, all popular with tourists, locals and professionals from Europe, the U.S. and Canada alike.
The Pacific Ocean, reservoirs, rivers and lakes of the south and central regions are perfect for water sports. Among them whitewater rafting and kayaking, particularly on the Futalefú river, one of the most challenging courses in the world. Another popular sport is fly-fishing, with the country’s pristine waterways drawing aficionados from across the world.