The History of Jai-Alai
Jai-alai originated in the Basque region of France and Spain. Currently, Jai-alai is played all around the world, from Mexico to the Philippines, from China to Italy. Florida is home to the most frontons, courts where Jai-alai is played, in the world.
Establishing the Game
Jai-alai is a traditional Basque game that developed in the region over hundreds of years. Players originally used church walls to bounce the ball, and the game was only played outdoors. In 1798, the first indoor game was played in Marquena, Spain. In 1860, the quintessential curved, wicker glove was introduced in France by Gantchiqui Diturbide. The Spanish call the glove “cesta-punta”; in Basque, it’s “xistera.”
Jai-alai Meets the Americas
Around the turn of the 20th century, Jai-alai was becoming popular in the Western hemisphere, when it was introduced in Cuba in 1898. Although the game is called “pelota vasque,” or Basque ball, Cubans began calling the game its current name, Jai-alai, which means “merry festival” in Basque because it was traditionally played at festivals. The first fronton, Jai-alai’s playing court, was built in the U.S. for the St. Louis World’s Fair in 1904.
Jai-alai Meets the Olympics
Since the beginning of the modern Olympics, Jai-alai has been played for Olympic medals. In the 1924 Olympics held in Paris, Jai-alai was first brought to the Olympic arena. It wasn’t until 1992, during the Barcelona Olympics, that Jai-alai was once again played during the Olympics.
Jai-Alai Meets Its Youngest Professional Player
Jai-alai generally takes a lifetime to learn. Players generally begin playing when they are 8 or 9 years old. In 1922, however, a Jai-alai phenom emerged in the sport. Piston I, age 9, began playing professionally. He remains the youngest professional player in the sport’s history.
Jai-alai Meets the 21st Century
Jai-alai remains internationally popular. The sport is promoted and regulated by the International Federation of Basque Pelota (FIPV). Based in Pamplona, Spain, FIPV sets rules for sanctioned games and organizes the sport’s annual world championships.