Sports in Panama

Sports in Panama
Updated 2017-07-31 07:49

A country as conducive to the outdoor life as Panama almost inevitably develops sport-lovers. In this case the main love is football (what Americans call “soccer”, that is) and the global nature of the game these days sees Panamanians playing in professional leagues all over the world. This is, perhaps, to the detriment of the national football scene, with the emerging talent quickly swiped by countries where there is more money available.

Although the national team has yet to make it to the finals of the World Cup, it has achieved success in the regional tournaments organised by CONCAF, the branch of world football body FIFA that encompasses the Caribbean, Central America, the USA and Canada.

The two most famous Panamanian sportsmen in history, though, were a boxer and a cricketer.


Roberto Duran was a hard-as-nails fighter who perhaps would have achieved even more had his career as a middleweight and welterweight not coincided with those of Sugar Ray Leonard, Marvin Hagler and Tommy Hearns in one of boxing's golden ages.

As it is, Duran won 103 of his 119 fights on the way to several world titles. His life and career have been celebrated on film in Hands of Stone (his nickname), which starred Robert de Niro, while Duran himself appeared in Rocky II as Sylvester Stallone's sparring partner. Interestingly, Rocky's surname in the films is Balboa, a famous Panamanian name to the extent that it is what the currency is called.

Also back in the day, Panama Al Brown was a leading boxer of the 1920s and 30s, a boyish-looking bantamweight who became the first Hispanic world title holder.


The cricketer was George Headley, a brilliant batsman who represented the West Indies before and after the Second World War. Although the West Indies is generally thought of as a group of islands in the Caribbean, it is only in cricket that they get together under one banner, and other countries such as Guyana have also contributed players to the cause.

Cricket was introduced to Panama by workers from the Caribbean, brought in for the construction of the canal. While it may not be a high-profile sport here (and indeed it is currently struggling with a shortage of venues) there is a Panamanian Cricket Association and the national team plays against other 'minority' countries.

Other popular sports in Panama

Today Panamanian sportspeople can be found in the USA playing basketball, football (American) and baseball.

The American influence in the country has given rise to all those sports being played here and forming part of the sports program in some schools.

Of the natural outdoor activities to which Panama lends itself, cycling and horse riding are popular, as are water sports such as canoeing, kayaking and even surfing.

Golf is much in evidence too and the ever-increasing number of courses may be largely due to the arrival of retirees looking for a healthy outdoor pursuit that is not too strenuous, but it inevitably rubs off on the locals.

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