Tour de France and the 3Ls

After a week of racing, the Tour de France has reached the mountains, when huge crowds line the streets to see the cyclists gasp their way along winding lanes. With as many as a million spectators each year, it is sometimes claimed that Le Tour is the world’s third largest sports event.

It is clear that the FIFA World Cup and summer edition of the Olympic Games are the two largest sports events, each involving over 200 countries and attracting a TV audience that is a significant chunk of the world’s population.

Regarding the next in line, however, there is some doubt. It really depends whether you measure participants, crowds, TV audience, economic impact or some more subjective criteria. In addition to the Tour de France, claims have also been made that quite a few other events are the third largest. Here is a list of what might I would like to call the 3Ls:
UEFA EURO – large TV audience and economic impact – next edition Poland/Ukraine 2012
Asian Games – over 30 sports and 6,000 participants - next edition Guangzhou 2010
Commonwealth Games – involves over 50 countries and one third of the world’s population – next edition New Delhi 2010
Maccabiah Games – over 7,000 participants – happening 12-23 July 2009 in Israel
IAAF World Championships in Athletics – large number of participating countries – next edition in August in Berlin
ICC Cricket World Cup – massive interest in India with over 1 billion population - next edition India/Bangladesh/Sri Lanka 2011
IRB Rugby World Cup – ticket sales – perhaps not a very strong case – next edition New Zealand 2011

A case could also be made for the Olympic Winter Games (Vancouver 2010). The fact that ardent sports fans may not have heard of some of the 3Ls, depending on where they live in the world, demonstrates that only football and the Olympic Games are truly universal.

Organisers, rights-holders and sponsors can be forgiven for talking up the significance of their events as nobody particularly wants to be promoting the 8th biggest sports event in the world and it’s difficult to make a fully objective judgement in any case. What is relevant to fans in India is not necessarily of interest in France and vice versa.

The Tour de France has a unique place on the list of 3Ls as the only event which takes place every year – the others are quadrennial - and always predominantly in the same country. Completing the Tour is a great feat of endurance and it is worth bearing in mind that it will only be in two weeks, on Sunday 26 July, when the riders will be greeted by the welcome sight of the finish line in the Champs Elysées in Paris. By that time many other major sporting competitions that are not among the 3Ls will have been and gone.

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