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Unlike countries like Greece (where the original Olympic Games came from) and the British Islands, Italy is not a country with a long history of sports. There is only a very limited number of traditional sports in Italy – and the one important contribution of Italy to the world of sports is the invention of ballet. Some Italians would like to make you believe that it was their country who invented football, however, it is commonly assumed that the Greek were the first ones to have a game similar to football (and it was even depicted on a stone carving).
Ballet is a performance dance, and as it is more strenuous than other types of dances, it is listed as a sport here. The Italians are also quite proud about this invention. However, soon after its first occurrence, it spread over into France, and the French quickly transformed it into something even bigger, and of course, they gave everything French names. This is the reason why many people wrongly believe that the French were the ones who invented this type of dancing.
Football is by far the most popular sport in Italy, and there is a huge rivalry between the biggest football clubs in Italy. The fans of Italian football are often referred to as Tifosi. Football is not just popular in Italy, but the Italians also turned out to be rather successful in that sport. They have won many international competitions multiple times, e.g. the FIFA World Cup and the European Championship. The Italian National Team in football is regarded as one of the best international football teams.
Water sports come right after football in their popularity. Around three and a half million people in Italy actively take part in one or the other type of water sport. The most popular one is swimming because it is easily accessible to people, no matter whether you want to do it for leisure or as a professional sport. The other popular water sports in Italy are diving, sailing, rowing, water skiing, water polo, water basketball, and surfing.
Gymnastics, especially rhythmic gymnastics, have become quite popular in Italy in the last two decades. The Italians also had quite a few successes with their gymnastics teams during a few of the last Olympic Games. While they did not manage to win any gold metals, they did show their skill by usually ending up within the top ten teams, and even winning a silver medal during the 2004 Summer Olympics.
Basketball is one of the games the Italians are really good at, and they have also been connected to this sport for a while. Italian teams usually find themselves amongst the best European teams, and regularly achieve top results during tournaments.
The Italian Volleyball League is often called the most difficult volleyball league in the world, and the teams from that league often find themselves as some of the best teams in the whole world. Volleyball is not only popular on a professional level, there are also many players who simply play the game for fun in Italy.
The Italians love cycling, and they are also very good at it. When you look at competitions like the World Cycling Championship and the results from previous competitions, then you can see that only one country has won the championships more often than Italy: Belgium! The Italians also have their own long distance cycle competition: the Giro d'Italia. This competition is famous amongst the cyclists of the world and usually held in the month of May.
While the Italians did not invent Tennis, they did invent a minor form of Tennis: beach tennis with a paddle racquet. This is actually quite a popular activity for people during warmer months, and you might find people playing this game on the beaches (usually on less touristy beaches as you need some space to play it). Normal Tennis is quite a popular spectator sport in Italy. While the Italians might not have the best Tennis players in the world, they usually find themselves within the top 100 players, and sometimes even manage to win one or the other competition.
Athletics are also rather popular in Italy, and there is a big number of local athletic events all over Italy. The athletes that take part in more important events, e.g. the Olympics, are well respected and popular people in Italy.
There are well over two million Alpine skiers in Italy, and of course the mountains of Italy – with the Alps being an important feature in the North – give skiers excellent opportunities. However, other winter sports like snowboarding, cross-country skiing, ice-skating, dancing on ice, and sledding also have a good amount of active participants in Italy.