THE excitement at a sporting event can be infectious, but what is better than the spirit of the game than to make a holiday of it with your friends or family? Sport travel has taken the world by storm, with many tourists using events to organise holidays to exotic locations. At this year’s Midmar Mile, international swimmers boasted about how amazing it was to travel while they participated in sporting competitions.
It is easy to see why there is always hype around competitions like this. The Midmar Mile is a swimming race held annually in February at the Midmar Dam, north of Pietermaritzburg in KwaZuluNatal. In 2009, the race, which 13 755 competitors finished, was recognised by Guinness World Records as the world’s largest openwater swimming event. Nicky Bell, the director of Edusport Travel and Tours, said sports travel attracts many enthusiasts whose dream wa s to attend a sports event.
“The market is fairly consistent year in, year out, but when there is a major world event such as a World Cup, Olympic Games and other similar events, you will see a major peak in the numbers,” she said.
World Cup events take place every four years. This year there will be the Fifa Confederations Cup in Russia, followed by the Fifa World Cup in Russia next year, and the Cricket World Cup in England and Rugby World Cup in Japan in 2019.
“The frequently visited countries depend on what people are watching. The English Premier League is incredibly popular, therefore a lot of travel takes place in the UK. Motor Grand Prix events also attract tourists.
“As sports travel specialists we understand that the clients’ main focus is to enjoy the sporting event. We usually centre the entire programme around the event when we plan the travel arrangements. We try to find everything linked to that particular event to enhance their experience,” said Bell.
Her advice for sport travellers is to be wary about buying tickets on websites as some are sourced via black markets. She suggests that one use a reputable agent who has access to official sources. Even international sporting greats use their competitions to make a trip out of it.
US professional open-water marathon swimmer on the Fina Grand Prix circuit, Lexie Kelly, said her career in swimming has helped her see the world. She is currently in Cape Town, exploring the city this week, before she returns home to California in a few days. Kelly was in KwaZulu-Natal for the Midmar Mile, where she got up close and personal with the Big Five. “It is more of a swimming vacation and I try to incorporate my competitions with a bit of sightseeing,” said Kelly.
Dutch swimmer Ferry Weertman has been to a number of countries, including Brazil, China, Hong Kong and Canada. He was in Mexico recently for a two-week stay. He enjoyed having lunch at sea among dolphins and snorkelling so much that he wants to go back soon. “It is important to travel, especially in our line of work. It exposes you to so much of what the world has to offer. It allows you to see other cultures and interact with the locals. I love Asia and Africa,” he said. His travel companion is his girlfriend Ranome.
In July, he will be in Abu Dhabi for a 10km qualifier for the World Cup. The swimmers stayed at Road Lodge in Pietermaritzburg, which they enjoyed.