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In addition to being one of the Caribbean's hottest vacation destinations, Puerto Rico is also a popular place for sports, and the island hosts a number of sporting events. Sports on the island can even be traced to before European colonization, and now athletics have become an important part of Puerto Rican culture.
Before the arrival of Christopher Columbus, the Taíno Indians, Puerto Rico's indigenous people, played several games and sports as parts of ceremonies as well as for recreation. These games included races, tests of physical strength, and fishing competitions. But the most important of the Taíno's matches were gladiator-style fights and ball games called batey that were held on U-shaped fields. The goal was to keep the ball in constant motion using the head, shoulder, elbows, or knees. Although this game may sound fun, these matches were not about friendly competition, and losers had more at stake than their reputations. While the winners were treated like heroes and champions, the losers were sacrificed.
As a commonwealth of the United States, the people of Puerto Rico enjoy many of the same sports as Americans, including basketball, baseball, and even football, which is better known as soccer on the island. Below are some of the most popular sports played on the island:
Baseball: Puerto Rico has a winter baseball team with a devoted following of fans. Some consider baseball to be the most popular sport on the island. The game was first played by a group of Puerto Ricans and Cubans who picked it up while visiting the United States. Shortly afterward, the first two baseball clubs, the Almendares Baseball Club and the Borinquen Baseball Club, were established on the island in 1897. Puerto Rico participates in the Caribbean World Series. The island also boasts a significant roster of players in Major League Baseball, such as Hall-of-Famers Roberto Clemente and Orlando Cepeda.
Basketball: Founded in the 1930s, Puerto Rico's Liga de Baloncesto Superior Nacional, the island's national basketball organization, has helped to make basketball a favorite sport on the island. The Puerto Rican league has 16 teams, and a six-team pro league. The island's national team has gone to the Olympics multiple times, and even defeated the U.S. Dream Team in the 2004 Olympics in Athens. Street basketball has also become popular on Puerto Rico, especially with the younger generation.
Boxing: Ranking as one of the top sports in Puerto Rico, next to baseball and basketball, boxing has been an important part of the island's history. Several Puerto Rican boxers have achieved success in the sport. Puerto Rico's first boxing world champion was Sixto Escobar, and in 1948, boxer Juan Evangelista Venegas won the bronze medal in boxing, giving Puerto Rico its first Olympic medal ever. Following Venegas' win, Puerto Rican boxers won five more Olympic medals, including the only silver medal to be won by a Puerto Rican in the Olympics. Puerto Rico made another mark in the world of boxing in 2001 when island native John Ruiz defeated the WBA world champ Evander Holyfield to become boxing's first-ever Latin American World Heavyweight Champion.
Cockfighting: Also called peleas de gallos, the controversial sport of cockfighting is a very popular event on Puerto Rico. Unlike in most of the United States, the fighting of gamecocks is legal on Puerto Rico, which has gained a reputation across the world for being the largest capital for cockfighting. The matches draw huge crowds of both spectators and those who place bets, and some of the events are even broadcast on television. Game roosters are specially bred and trained to fight in these matches, and around the age of 1 or 2 years of age, they're put into the ring. Some consider the sport cruel and inhumane, as the roosters wear either metal or bone spurs that are fitted over their natural ones and engaged in brutal fights, which can sometimes go until the death of one of the birds.
Soccer: Known as "Association Football" or fútbol on Puerto Rico, soccer isn't as popular here as it is on many other islands in the Caribbean. The island has a FIFA-sponsored league, and some Puerto Rican soccer players play in the United Soccer Leagues First Division.
Puerto Rico hosts a number of sporting events throughout the year, and there are a lot of sporting facilities on the island where these events are held. Most of the sports centers are located in the capital city of San Juan, but it's not difficult to find some in other cities, too. Here is a listing of Puerto Rico's stadiums and sporting arenas:
|Caguas Sports Complex||Located in Caguas, this building has facilities for swimming, soccer, martial arts, table tennis, aerobics, gymnastics, boxing, judo, baseball, basketball, and volleyball.|
|El Comandante||Thoroughbred horse racing takes place at this track, which is located in Conavanas.|
|Guillermo Angulo Coliseum||This complex is located in Carolina city and has facilities available for martial arts, basketball, volleyball, and judo.|
|Hiram Bithorn Stadium||Hiram Bithorn Stadium is the largest baseball stadium in Puerto Rico, with a capacity to hold 18,000 people.|
|Mario Morales Coliseum||This was the site of the 1996 World Boxing Championship and has facilities for boxing, judo, martial arts, basketball, and volleyball.|
|Olympic Village Germán Rieckehoff||This complete sports arena offers mountain biking, fencing, track and field, soccer, archery, weightlifting, table tennis, aerobics, swimming, judo, martial arts, wrestling, volleyball, gymnastics, boxing, a gym, baseball, and basketball.|
|Palacio de los Deportes||Sporting facilities here include boxing, judo, martial arts, basketball, volleyball, and gymnastics.|
|Ponce Sports Complex||As one of the three sporting complexes in the city of Ponce, this sports center has equipment and facilities for swimming, diving, table tennis, aerobics, weightlifting, judo, martial arts, wrestling, volleyball, gymnastics, boxing, baseball, track and field, and basketball.|
|Rebekah Colberg Sports Complex||This arena can hold 2,500 people and has facilities for soccer, table tennis, aerobics, track and field, boxing, judo, martial arts, basketball, volleyball, and gymnastics.|
|Roberto Clemente Coliseum||For more than 20 years, this coliseum has been one of the most important venues on the island where many special events are held. The coliseum has facilities for boxing, judo, martial arts, basketball, volleyball, and gymnastics.|
|Roberto Clemente Sports City||Located in Carolina, this sports center has tennis, track and field, baseball, basketball, and volleyball.|
|Ruben Rodríguez Coliseum||As one of the most popular sports venues in the metropolitan area, this coliseum offers boxing, judo, martial arts, basketball, volleyball, and gymnastics.|
Attending a sporting event while visiting Puerto Rico can be a wonderful and exciting addition to your vacation on the island, and with a little planning prior to your trip, you may be able to catch one of the island's celebrated main events.
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