No mega events but plenty on the sporting menu in 2015

Fri Dec 19, 2014 2:17pm EST
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By Nick Mulvenney

SYDNEY (Reuters) - The lack of an Olympics or a soccer World Cup deprives 2015 of a single global focus for sports fans but a rich calendar of international events has more than enough world class action to satiate even the most refined palate.

Tens of millions of cricket obsessives in South Asia will ensure plenty of eyeballs on the World Cup in Australia and New Zealand, while rugby's equivalent is among many contenders for the title of the world's third biggest tournament.

The Tour de France, with a worldwide TV audience of 3.5 billion people every year, will be a battle royale between defending champion Vincenzo nibali, Alberto Contador, Chris Froome and Nairo Quintana in July.

The burgeoning popularity of European club soccer shows no sign of abating but men's international football honours in 2015 will be confined to regional championships in Asia, Africa as well as South, Central and North America.

The finest female footballers from all five continents will gather in Canada in June and July to contest the seventh women's World Cup, however, with Germany and the United States the early favourites.

The Olympic programme is on furlough but not so the athletes, who compete in world championships in track and field, swimming and a host of other sports as they embark on a trail they hope will climax with gold at the Rio de Janeiro Games in 2016.

The July 24-Aug 9 swimming championships in the Russian city of Kazan will be without the biggest name in the sport after 18-times Olympic gold medallist Michael Phelps was kicked off the U.S. team in the wake of a drink driving arrest.

Usain Bolt, however, looks certain to be back where it all began for him at the athletics world championships at Beijing's Birds Nest, the venue for his stunning 100 and 200m victories in world record times at the 2008 Olympics.   Continued...