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Thursday, June 2, 2011

Sports in Tbilisi

Tbilisi has a fairly rich sports history. Like many other towns of the Near East with strong Asian cultural influences, Tbilisi historically had a special area of town that was designated for sports competitions. The present-day districts of Saburtalo and Didube were the most common areas where such competitions were held. Up until the beginning of the 19th century, sports such as horse-riding (polo in particular), wrestling, boxing, and marksmanship were the most popular city sports. As Tbilisi started to develop socially and economically and integrate more with the West, new sports from Europe were introduced. The Soviet period brought an increased popularization of sports that were common in Europe and to a certain extent, the United States. At the same time, Tbilisi developed the necessary sports infrastructure for various professional sports. By 1978, the city had around 250 large and small sports facilities, including among others, four indoor and six outdoor Olympic sized pools, 185 basketball courts and halls, 192 volleyball facilities, 82 handball arenas, 19 tennis courts, 31 football (soccer) fields, and five stadiums. At present, the largest stadium in Tbilisi is the Boris Paichadze Stadium (55,000 seats) and the second largest is the Mikheil Meskhi Stadium (24,680 seats). The Sports Palace which usually hosts basketball games with high attendance and tennis tournaments can seat up to approximately 11,000 people.
Vere Basketball Hall is a smaller indoor sports arena with a 2,500 seating capacity.
The most popular sports in Tbilisi today are football, rugby union, basketball, and wrestling. Also popular sports include tennis, swimming and water polo. There are several professional football and rugby teams as well as wrestling clubs. U.S. National Basketball Association players Zaza Pachulia and Nikoloz Tskitishvili are Tbilisi natives. Outside of professional sports, the city has a number of inter-collegiate and amateur sports teams and clubs.
Tbilisi's signature football team, Dinamo Tbilisi, has not won a major European championship since 1981, when it won the European Cup Winners' Cup and became the easternmost team in Europe to achieve the feat. The basketball club Dinamo Tbilisi won the Euroleague in 1962 but also never repeated any such feat.

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