Why is it called a Mexican wave? Origins explained - where did it originate, when did it first happen and why

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The Mexican wave is a popular phenomenon with fans keen to take part at the World Cup

Mexican waves are making their way through football grounds around Qatar as thousands of fans come together to cheer their country on during the 2022 World Cup.

The Mexican wave has been seen at a variety of sporting events since the 1980s including American football, baseball and hockey. While music fans are also seen partaking in Mexican waves at concerts and festivals.

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The Mexican wave is a powerful phenomenon which can bring huge crowds of people together in unison. According to the Oxford dictionary the “Mexican wave is an effect resembling a moving wave produced by successive sections of the crowd in a stadium standing up, raising their arms, lowering them and sitting down again.”

Most sporting fans around the world will have seen or taken part in a Mexican wave at some point in their life. But where does the tradition come from and how did it become so popular around the world?

Here is everything you need to know.

Why is it called the Mexican wave?

The phenomenon is known as the Mexican wave in the UK due its associations with the 1986 World Cup. The tournament was hosted by Mexico and at the time they became the first country to host the event on more than one occasion.

Most sports historians claim that the wave began to surface internationally during the competition. The 1986 World Cup was broadcast to fans around the world and for many people outside of North America it was the first time that they had encountered the wave.

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Mexico made the quarter-final of the tournament in 1986 and it was their joint best performance at a World Cup - equalling the record previously set in 1970 when they also hosted the event.

The Mexico national team has successfully made it out of the group stage in all of their last seven tournaments since 1994. However, they have remarkably exited the tournament at the same stage on all seven occasions during the round of 16. Martino’s team will be aiming to surpass that record this time around in Qatar.

How is the Mexican Wave known around the world?

The term Mexican Wave has been commonly used throughout the UK since the World Cup in 1986 but it is known by a number of different names around the world.

In the United States it is known simply as ‘The Wave’, whereas in Mexico it is known as “La Ola” which also translates as wave.

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Origins of the Mexican Wave

Although the Mexican Wave rose to prominence in the 1980s, it had already become popular in North America around a decade prior to the 1986 World Cup.

There is some debate over the exact origins of the tradition but it is believed to date back to the late 1970s during North American sporting events. The earliest video footage of the wave was seen in 1981 during a nationally televised baseball game between the Oakland Athletics and the New York Yankees. American cheerleader Krazy George Henderson is credited by fans in the United States for creating the wave.

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