SBJ/August 1 - 7, 2005/SBJ In Depth

Not as common as in the United States, but sports halls abound in various forms overseas

From Melbourne to Mexico City, and Bangkok to Berlin, sports museums can be found on nearly every corner of the planet as a testament to the passion of fans, and in tribute to outstanding teams, players and matches of past years and generations.

But while American sports fans and media seemingly never tire of banter about whether or not a player is a “hall of famer,” the concept and physical presence of an actual hall of fame has not been adopted with equal emphasis around the globe.

Visitors check out the exhibits in the Australian Football League Hall of Fame in Melbourne.
More often than not, international sports museums are associated with clubs and known for their collections of memorabilia and trophies, as opposed to busts of players voted to halls by the press, as is common in the United States and Canada.

“Halls of fame are not quite as common internationally as they are in North America,” said Karen Hewson, president of the International Association of Sport Museums and Halls of Fame. “There’s a movement toward more halls of fame, but historically, [international museums] have been more interested in the sport at large as opposed to individual achievement.”

That’s not to say that sports museums in other countries aren’t popular. Legendary soccer club FC Barcelona, for example, boasts an elaborate museum that welcomes more than 1.1 million visitors a year. The self-proclaimed “best footballing museum in the world” opened in 1984 and features collections dedicated to the century-old club and the history of the game itself.

Many of the world’s best-known clubs — such as Manchester United, Arsenal and Real Madrid — have paid to have museums or trophy rooms as part of their home venues, which often include club-specific halls of fame. Manchester United attracts 200,000 visitors a year to its museum at Old Trafford. The museum includes items that track the history of the club from its formation in 1878 as well as interactive elements such as a virtual reality tour of the stadium.

England opened a temple to its national game in 2001 in the form of the National Football Museum in the northwest town of Preston. Much like American halls of fame, the museum, built for $33 million in public and private funding, is in a location not known for being popular with tourists, but one that is rich in history of the game it glorifies. Preston was the first club to win the Football League and has the longest continuously used ground in the world.

“We went out on a limb to put the museum in the right historical setting,” said museum marketing manager Mark Bushell, also an original curator.

The museum, located underneath two grandstands at Preston North End’s Deepdale Stadium, includes a hall of fame and an annual gala to induct new members. It initially supported itself through admission fees and local government subsidies, but quickly realized that model was not sustainable. It eventually became recognized as one of the United Kingdom’s national museums and in so doing became eligible for more significant government support.

The charitable arm of England’s top league, the Football Association, also supports the museum, which no longer charges an entry fee and has 35,000 objects, of which only 1,500 are on display at a time. Its most cherished items, Bushell said, include pieces from the FIFA collection such as a ball used in the first World Cup in 1930 and a jersey worn during the England vs. Scotland match in 1872, the first international competition.

Based in Lausanne, Switzerland, the Olympic Museum opened in 1993 as a tribute to the ancient Olympic ideals, a showcase for the modern Games, and an attempt to unite sports, art and culture. The museum welcomes 200,000 visitors a year, second most of any museum in the country, according to curator Frederique Jamolli. The International Olympic Committee paid for the project.

Jamolli said a small part of the museum is dedicated to a hall of fame, with new inductees chosen by the IOC after each Games. Much emphasis is placed on traveling exhibitions, bringing collections to various nations and educational institutions. “Our aim is to spread the Olympic ideals around the world,” Jamolli said.

In Australia, a nation of undeniably passionate fans and participants, sports museums abound, honoring Australian Rules Football, cricket and horse racing, among other sports. The Australian Football League Hall of Fame and Sensation in Melbourne opened in August 2004 amid immediate financial problems, changed ownership in 2005, and is now owned by the league and QV Australia, a development company that owns the building in which the museum resides.

Located in the heart of Melbourne, the birthplace of the game, the AFL Hall honors players and its “Sensation” half gives visitors an interactive chance to experience the game through a simulated week of competitions. Marketing manager Sarah Graham said the facility is on pace to attract 80,000 visitors this year.

FIFA, the governing body of international soccer and organizer of the World Cup, does not have a hall of fame, even though its competition may be the most popular in the world. Its collection is stored at the National Football Museum in England.

Jack Huckel, communications director of the Soccer Hall of Fame in Oneonta, N.Y., has a theory why the game of soccer tends to inspire museums, but not halls of fame.

“Soccer is a collective game,” said Huckel. “There aren’t as many statistics and it’s often ‘beauty in the eye of the beholder.’”

Greg Abel is a writer in Baltimore.

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