Cycling and football are the nation's top sports, though Belgians also have an ongoing love affair with motorsports, be it motorcross (in which the country has had a number of successes on the international scene), hill climbing or amateur rallying.
Perhaps the most common sports in Brussels, however, are the extremely strenuous " baby-foot " (table football), as well as the many versions of bar billiards . There's also the traditional sport of tir à l'arc en hauteur , found in big parks like the Parc Josaphat, in which contestants shoot down feathers from the top of a very tall pole with a bow and arrow.
Two major events dominate the athletics calendar of Brussels. The Ivo van Damme Memorial IAHF Grand Prix is one of the International Athletic Federation meetings that is held yearly (last fortnight in August) in the Stade Roi Baudouin and attracts many of the stars of the sport. It's named after the Belgian 800m silver-medallist of the 1976 Olympics in Montréal. Call 02 479 36 54 for tickets and details.
There is also the popular Brussels 20km Race , which takes place in May or June each year, and usually attracts a field of 20,000 runners and more than 50,000 spectators. Although it consists of mostly serious runners, there are lots of festivities along the way and some people semi-walk it. The course takes participants halfway round the city near the EU Quarter, the Palais Royale, the avenue Louise, the Bois de la Cambre and through the tunnels of the Brussels inner ring road. It starts and finishes at the Esplanade du Cinquantenaire, and participants are charged ?9 for the privilege of running their socks off for four hours. Call 02 513 89 40 for details.
Brussels' position in European football went down several notches following the 1985 Heysel disaster. Not only was the city's reputation in tatters, but Heysel was banned from staging European matches. Even the home club who played in the stadium complex, Racing Jet Brussels, moved out to Wavre, 30km away. However, after being rebuilt and renamed the Stade Roi Baudouin, the new ground was used for several matches in the 2000 European Championship. Despite occasional outbreaks of violence, the championship - hosted jointly by Belgium and Holland - helped restore the country's place as an international football host.
In terms of league football , Brussels has been dominated by one club - Anderlecht. Most of the city's other clubs have either folded, migrated or merged to help form the city's poor relation, Racing White Daring Molenbeek (RWDM). Anderlecht's facilities and resources put other Belgian clubs in the shade, but this difference is all the more marked in Brussels, as RWDM attract only a few thousand fans. A third city club, Union Saint-Gilloise, were the Brussels club until their relegation in 1973. They have an identifiable neighbourhood feel and their sardonic Bruxellois humour can still be heard in the club bar. The few fans who still shuffle up the rue du Stade do so now out of duty rather than pleasure.
Cycling is immensely popular in Belgium, both as a sport and a hobby. The country has a great cycling terrain and Brussels plays host to the many national cycling meets, having also been a stop-off point for the Tour de France. In honour of the great Belgian cyclist, the Eddy Merckx Grand Prix on the last Sunday of August is a timed event attracting top professionals. Provélo also organizes an amateur version which is an excellent opportunity to take advantage of the car-free 22km circuit within Brussels, starting and ending at the Gare du Nord, via the Botanique, Montgomery tunnel, the canal and Heysel - families are welcome. At other times of the year cyclists can join the joggers to stretch their legs in the Bois de la Cambre and the Forêt de Soignes.
For bike rental , go to Provélo (July-Aug Tues-Sun 1-7pm, rue de l'infante Isabelle; Sept-June Mon-Fri 9am-6pm, rue E. Solvay 32; tel 02 502 73 55), who also organize bike tours of Brussels and the outskirts. Alternatively, check out the Train-plus-Vélo schemes offered at most railway stations - a bike is thrown in with the price of a train ticket to nineteen destinations in Belgium (tel 02 555 25 25 for details). Those who already have their own bike can take it on the train for ?4 per single journey, ?7.40 for a return. You can also contact the Fédération Belge du Cyclotourisme, who organize some 600 cycle rides every year throughout Belgium (Ave du Limbourg 34; tel 02 521 86 40).
Given the Belgians' infatuation with motorsports, it comes as no surprise that go-karting is a popular pastime. There's a track at City Kart, square des Grées du Lou 59 (?12 per hour; tel 02 332 36 96, www.citykart.com ), or you can head for the Brussels Formula One track, rue de Lusambo 62 (?21 per 30min; tel 02 332 37 37), which also has a restaurant attached.
Most golf courses are outside Brussels and the Fédération Royale Belge de Golf (tel 02 672 23 89) can provide information on full-size golf courses in Belgium. The best 18-hole course in Brussels itself is the Royal Amicale Anderlecht Golf Club, rue Scholle 1 (tel 02 521 16 87), which has training and driving ranges and is well laid-out in wooded surroundings with lakes. The Brabantse Golf at Steenwagenstraat 11, Melsbroek (tel 02 751 82 05), is near the airport and is a pleasant and not too challenging full practice course 5km long. The Golf de l'Empereur near Waterloo is both challenging and beautiful, with the clubhouse in an old farmhouse. It has both 18- and 9-hole courses. You can play crazy golf at Parc de Wolvendael on avenue de Wolvendael 44 (daily 10am-6pm; tram #92 or #41; tel 02 375 34 62).
Ice-skaters will be delighted at the whimsical faerie-atmosphere surrounding the rink on the Grand-Place in December and January. Other public rinks include the Patinoire de Forest, avenue du Globe 36 (tel 02 345 16 11), which is open all year round, and Poséidon, avenue des Vaillants 4 (Sept-April; tel 02 762 16 33). Rollerbladers and skateboarders should head for Mont des Arts near Gare Centrale, or the Bois de la Cambre on Sundays, when the roads are closed to traffic.
Sports centres and gyms
Winner's at rue Bonneel 13 (tel 02 280 02 70) has an inside climbing - wall, as well as squash courts and a gym . The Golden Club at place du Châtelain 33 (Mon-Fri noon-10pm, Sat & Sun 10am-4pm; tel 02 538 19 06) has become highly prestigious in beefcake circles since the rise in popularity of that great Belgian export Jean-Claude van Damme - van Damme started off here and his ex-coach is still the manager. It has two thousand square metres of muscle-building machines, plus saunas and sunbeds, and runs aerobics, step and fitness classes, as well as popular martial arts classes for all those Hollywood wannabes.
The American Gym at boulevard Général Jacques 144 (Mon-Fri 10am-10pm, Sat 10am-3pm, Sun 10am-2pm; tel 02 640 59 92) has similar facilities. The boxing and kick-boxing on offer are top notch, given the gym's several champions in both categories, and the kung-fu classes are highly recommended. For more martial action, contact the Centre de la Culture Japonaise, rue des Augustines 44 (tel 02 426 50 00), which offers English-speaking classes in judo and karate , among others.
The Centre Sportif de Woluwe St Pierre at avenue Salomé 2 (tel 02 773 18 20) has a full range of sporting facilities including a multi-sports hall and squash and tennis courts (the latter are open till 11pm). The Complexe Sportif du Palais du Midi at rue van der Weyden 3-9 (tel 02 279 59 56) is more centrally located and has a sports hall which it rents out to teams including the first-division Brussels basketball team.
There's skiing and snowboarding available on the artificial slopes of the Parc de Neerpede's Yeti Ski and Snowboard venue, dreve Olympique 11 (tel 02 520 77 57, email@example.com ). Lessons are available, and you can rent all the equipment you need; note that wearing gloves is obligatory.
The city has a number of pools in local sports centres, including an Olympic-sized one at the Centre Sportif de Woluwe St Pierre (Mon-Thurs 8am-7pm, Fri 8am-8pm, Sat 8am-7pm). The Ixelles pool at rue de la Natation 10 is open on Sundays from 8am to 5.30pm, while Poséidon, avenue des Vaillants 2), has a separate children's pool, but can get crowded at weekends. Alternatively, both Aqualibi and the Océade water park are great places to go for water slides, wave-making machines and other aquatic havoc.
The city has a number of bowling alleys, the biggest, and most centrally located, being the Crosly Super Bowling at boulevard de l'Empereur 36 (daily 2pm-2am; tel 02 512 08 74). It has twenty lanes and a late bar.
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