Costa Ricans have established something of a reputation on the global stage for both national pride and for sometimes wearing their hearts on their sleeves. Nowhere does this manifest itself more clearly than in the world of sport. Of course, like other nations in both Central and South America, football is a national pastime. However, that’s far from the beginning and end of sport in Costa Rica.
Football – a national passion that went global
Ask someone from anywhere else in the world about Costa Rica and football and they will immediately make the connection with the 2014 World Cup. But in many ways that takes us to the end of the story, not the beginning.
The Costa Rican national team’s heroics in 2014 represented the culmination and crowning glory of a passion for football that goes back generations. But it also brought the game to a wider audience than ever before. This was the fourth time Costa Rica had qualified but the first time in the digital age and so close to home in Brazil. As such, men and women, young and old, all were transfixed by that quarter final run that could so easily have resulted in a semi final berth against Argentina but for the smallest of margins in the penalty shoot out.
Those heady weeks in 2014 stoked the flames of Costa Rica’s love affair with football, and it is one that burns strongly to this day. Online technology allows fans of all ages, regardless of personal skill or fitness to really feel involved by placing a personal stake on the outcome of games at a wide choice of online bookmakers. This has played its own role in increasing viewer engagement. The sites offer a variety of ways to get involved that go far beyond just backing a winner. For example, there is the possibility to predict how many goals will be scored, the winning margin or the top goal scorer over a tournament.
The other point to remember with these online betting sites is that many of them are based over in Europe. This means they also allows Costa Rica’s football fans to broaden their horizons and place bets on games in tournaments like the European Champions’ League and the English Premier League.
Back at home, Costa Rican football has neither stood still not crashed and burned after the excitement of 2014. The 2017 CONCACAF Gold Cup saw the team finish top of Group A and make it through to the semi finals. Then in Russia 2018, Costa Rica had a tough group, but performed way better than the final table looked. Remember, it seemed for all the world that the mighty Brazil would be held to a draw until Coutinho scored in extra time.
Watersport – where fun gets serious
Youngsters love to kick a football around in the streets of Costa Rica too. But primarily, football’s mass appeal is as a spectator sport as opposed to something in which people routinely participate. When Costa Ricans want to get personally involved in sporting activity, they are far more likely to head for the vast stretches of Pacific coastline than the football field.
It’s an environment that is perfect for watersport, so unsurprisingly, locals congregate at weekends to participate in surfing and paddleboarding. Over the past decade or so, they’ve been joined by a growing army of tourists, and for that, Hollywood has to take a certain amount of responsibility. It’s a quarter of a century since The Endless Summer 2 went on general release. The ultimate surfing documentary, it put Costa Rica at the epicenter of the world surfing scene, and there it has remained ever since.
Over recent years, stand up paddleboarding (SUP) has become increasingly popular, and not just among the beach lizards. In fact, in 2016, Costa Rica participated for the first time in the World SUP and Paddlebord Championship.
Golf – the great leveler
Not all of us are blessed with the talent or physique to head for the beach and hit the waves. But that doesn’t preclude us from having a go at one of Costa Rica’s other most popular participation sports. Golf sometimes has a reputation for exclusivity. Perhaps this is due to the historically high prices of club membership leading to it being seen as something for the upper classes.
In many ways, though, the opposite is the case, and golf is the most inclusive and accessible sport of all. Take a look on any one of Costa Rica’s beautiful golf courses and you’ll see men and women ranging from teenage years to their 70s or even older. Golf’s handicapping system even means that those playing close to professional level can have a meaningful and enjoyable round of golf competing with a complete beginner. How many sports are there where you can say that?
The nation has also produced some top golfers who have gone on to participate in the world PGA tour. These currently include the likes of Juan Marin and Valentin Quiros. On the whole, however, golf is less popular as a spectator sport, and certainly does not attract TV audiences in the way that football does. However, the rise of online streaming means that major tournaments and special events like the Ryder Cup are starting to attract a following.
Long-standing tradition in toros a la tica
Bullfighting is a sport that causes no end of controversy whenever it is discussed. We will not go into the rights or wrongs of it here, but there is no denying that toros a la tica remains a hugely popular spectacle and is woven into Costa Rica’s cultural heritage. In fact, it would be difficult to imagine what life in San Jose would be like over the New Year period without it.
Of course, the scenes played out in Costa Rica are far removed from the Spanish bullfights on which they are loosely based. Here, the raucous crowds are decidedly on the side of the bull, and a roaring cheer goes up every time he charges the unfortunate bullfighters.
In fact, the bull is by far the safest participant out there, and animal welfare is taken seriously. It is the human combatants who are most at risk, especially the growing number of amateurs who take to the ring in fancy dress. Still, whatever your views, it seems that this sport, beloved by both spectators and participants, will not disappear any time soon.