10 Of The Most Obscure World Sports
Let me be very clear here: I am not a sports person.
I have a large collection of runners, none of which have ever seen the inside of a gym. I ‘forgot’ my P.E. kit every week for the last three years of my secondary school education. When researching content for another blog, I had to Google the difference between football and soccer. There is none, by the way. In case you were wondering too.
My favourite sporting event is the Superbowl. For the record, I do not actually watch my favourite sporting event, I just watch all of the ads on Youtube the next day (yes, I’m that person).
As a result of this blog post, however, I can now officially and proudly declare that at long last, I have a favourite sport. However, I do feel I may have limited myself, as I’m not sure that even the best of sports bars show bunny show jumping competitions…
Oil Wrestling – Turkey
Oil wrestling – also known as grease wrestling or yağlı güreş in Turkish – is the national sport of Turkey.
The wrestlers, who are called pehlivan (meaning ‘hero’ or ‘champion’ in Persian) typically wear a type of hand-stitched lederhosen called a kisbet (sometimes spelled as kispet), which is traditionally made of water buffalo hide, but more recently calfskin.
Participants cover themselves in olive oil prior to the match to demonstrate balance and mutual respect. Matches are held in open, grassy fields, with almost naked contestants (except for the leather kisbet), and are won by the pehlivan grabbing a firm hold of his opponent’s kisbet; he can control his opponent by putting his arm through the latter’s kisbet, a move called paça kazık. If a pehlivan defeats an older opponent, he kisses the defeated man’s hand (a sign of respect for elders in Turkey).
Ancient Egyptian and Greco-Roman traditions both point to the practice oil wrestling, yet for Turkey, it is the oldest, continuously running, sanctioned sporting competition in the world. Over 1000 wrestlers have competed in the annual Kırkpınar Games since 1362. A three-day tournament in Edirne, Turkish Thrace, the Kırkpınar Games determine the baspehlivan (chief wrestler) of Turkey.
Wife-carrying – Finland
Wife-carrying (Finnish: eukonkanto) is an interesting contest, where male competitors race through an obstacle course while carrying a female teammate. The length of the official track is 253.5 metres, with two dry obstacles and a water obstacle of about one metre deep.
The most famous competition is held in Sonkjärvi, Finland, where the sport was invented. An annual event since 1992, the contest sees several versions of wife-carrying: the traditional piggyback, fireman’s carry (over the shoulder), or Estonian-style (the wife hangs upside-down with her legs around the husband’s shoulders). Contestants are also free to create a new personal style of their own.
The wife in question does not even have to be your own; she must, however, be over 17 years of age, and at least 49 kilograms (if she weighs less than the 49 kg, she is strapped with a rucksack containing an additional weight to make up the difference).
While the objective is for the male to carry the female in the fastest time, the most entertaining couple, the best costume, and the strongest carrier are also awarded a special prize. For any interested readers, the competition organisers offer advice on how to be a wife-carrying master: apparently, it’s all in the attitude, postures, outfit, life, eroticism, wife, track, rhythm and training.
Sepak Takraw – Malaysia
Said to have been invented by the Malaysian royal family over 500 years ago, sepak takraw – or kick volleyball – is a sport native to South Asia, and particularly popular in Malaysia and Thailand.
The sport was first played in the 15th century, and the name derives from the Malay word for kick (sepak) and the Thai word for a woven ball (takraw).
When it comes to the actual game game playing, there are two teams, each composed of 3 players, know as ‘regus’. One of the three players, called a ‘tekong’, is at the back; the other two players stay at the front, one on the left and the other on the right. The player on the left is called a ‘left inside’ and the player on the right is known as a ‘right inside’.
Matches are played on a rectangular court, similar to the size of a badminton court, with a suspended net in the middle. The objective is simple: hit the ball over the net into the opponent’s court, and try to make it un-returnable. Players may use any part of their legs, head and torso to handle the rattan ball, but not their arms or hands.
Apple Racing – Tasmania
An annual event held in Huon Valley, this unusual sport consists of racing one or multiple apples down the Huon river as part of the Apple and Salmon Race.
Located in the southwest and southeast regions of Tasmania in Huonville, the Huon river is the fourth largest in Tasmania at 108 miles long. Participants launch a floating apple from the bridge at Hounville and race it 300 metres down the river. The owner of the first apple that makes its way across the finish line is then declared the winner. The sale of apples (at $3 each or 4 for $10) is a fundraiser for the Rotary Club of Huon Valley.
Makepung – Indonesia
Derived from the word ‘kepung’ meaning ‘chase’ (similar to the expression ‘steeplechase’), makepung is a unique tradition that originates from agrarian life in Bali, Indonesia.
It is a buffalo racing competition, enjoyed by the Kaliakah Villagers of Jembrana Regency, west Bali, Indonesia. Buffalo pairs are teamed together with jockeys who ride customary wooden ploughs, or ‘cikar’. The racer buffaloes, known as kerbau pepadu, compete in seven open race circuits in heats around the entire district of Melaya. The race tracks are made up of 125 metres of wet rice field with four pairs of buffalo compete in one round.
The finals are known as the Jembrana Regent’s Cup and the Governor’s Cup. Before the day of the finals, teams gather in the Jembrana Regent to take part in an evening full of festivities, art performances and public amusement. On the race days, visitors from all over the world admire the buffaloes, who have been decorated in different ornaments and wear bells around their necks – there’s even an award for the best dressed buffalo! The racers wear traditional Balinese clothing, poleng gloves in black and white colour, and headbands.
Tuk Tuk Polo – Sri Lanka
It’s polo, Jim, but not as we know it.
Tuk tuk polo was developed in Sri Lanka as a replacement for another version of polo that had been popular in the region. Elephants had been used in previous tournaments in Galle, but organisers decided to discontinue the practice after the 2007 games, when one of the elephants went rogue.
The objective of tuk tuk polo, as with other forms of polo, is to score as many goals as possible. The field used is the same size as normal polo pitch, except the surface is suitable to ply a vehicle, and there are two goal posts on both ends of the field. Each team consists of 3 players riding two tuk-tuks. On each tuk-tuk, the driver is responsible for controlling the vehicle while the player is responsible for striking the ball through the goal posts. Players use short, mallet-like sticks, and the ball is similar to a cricket ball. Games consist of two 7 minute chukkas of playing time, with an interval of 15 minutes. (And there have zero tuk-tuk rampages).
Kabaddi – South Asia
The national game of Bangladesh and the state game of the Indian states of Tamil Nadu, Maharashtra, Bihar, Andhra Pradesh, Telangana and Punjab, Kabaddi is a contact sport that originated in ancient India.
It is a combination of wrestling, rugby, tag, and holding one’s breath. Two teams of seven players stand on opposite sides of a field, taking turns to send a ‘raider’ into the opponent’s half. The defenders must link arms and cannot break their chain. The raider attempts to tag the defenders, and the defenders try to prevent him from returning to his side before taking a breath. To prove to the referee that he has not taken a breath, the raider must chant the word ‘Kabaddi’ on his exhaling breath. The raider is ‘out’ and does not gain the point if he inhales before returning to his side, or returns without tagging an opponent. The tagged defender(s) are ‘out’ if they do catch the raider who tagged them.
Ulama – Mexico
Ulmala is a traditional ball sport from Mexico, descended from the Aztec version of the Mesoamerican ballgame. The game is one of the oldest continuously played sports in the world, as well as the oldest known game using a rubber ball. (Read our country guide to travelling in Mexico here!)
The word ulama comes from the Nahuatl word ōllamaliztli, a combination of ōllamas (playing of a game with a ball) and ōllei (rubber). Players keep the ball inbounds by hitting it with their hips or forearms on a temporary court called a tastei, from tlachtli, the Nahuatl word meaning ‘ballcourt’. The court bounds are made by drawing thick lines in the dirt and are divided into opposing sides by a centre line, called an analco.
A ball that crosses the end line – the chichi or chivo – is a point for the opposing team. The first team to score eight points or rayas wins.
Cheese Rolling – England
Two origins have been proposed for this unique sport at Cooper’s Hill near Gloucester, England, the event which has a history dating back to at least the 1800s.
Originally taking place each Whit Monday before being transferred to the Spring Bank Holiday, the first explanation is that it evolved from a requirement for maintaining grazing rights on the common. The second suggestion is the pagan custom of rolling objects down hills; it is said that bundles of burning brushwood used to be rolled down hills to represent the birth of the New Year after winter.
From the top of the hill, a 9lb round of Double Gloucester cheese – a hard cheese traditionally made in a wheel shape – is rolled, with competitors racing down the hill after it. Each cheese wheel is protected by a wooden casing round the side, and decorated with ribbons at the start of the race.
In theory, competitors are aiming to catch the cheese; however, as it has a one-second head start and can reach speeds up to 70 mph, the first person over the finish line at the bottom of the hill wins the cheese. A surprisingly dangerous sport, the 1997 competition had the highest injury toll, with 33 racers treated for everything from splinters to broken bones, and the 2009 event saw more than 15,000 people turn up to watch the game, leading to the cancellation of the following year’s tournament due to safety fears.
Kaninhop (Bunny Jumping) – Sweden
Rabbit show jumping started in Sweden in the early 1970s. At that time, the rules were based on the rules from horse jumping, but have been since reformed to be better suited to rabbits.
Rabbits must take part in four different rounds that include different types of barricades, rails, and jumps while attached to a lead. Official rabbit jumping competitions consist of a straight course, a crooked course, high jump and long jump.
A rabbit has two minutes to complete the course; if the time runs out before the course is finished, the rabbit is disqualified. The mini course is an introductory course, and in order to progress from easy to medium and so on, the rabbit must earn promotion points – they are then placed according to the number of faults they have (e.g. knocking down a rail).
Breeders train the bunnies at least eight weeks before the show-jumping competition by walking them on harnesses; breeders also encourage the rabbits by talking to them throughout the training and the event itself. According to the judges, the attributes needed to become the champion of the rabbit show jumping are agility, courage and determination.
The Guinness world record for bunny hopping is held by Snöflingans (Super Champion) Majesty of Night “Aysel”, owned by Tarkan Sönmez from Sweden at 100 cm.
Hornussen – Switzerland
Hornussen is one of the three traditional national Swiss sports.
Indigenous to Switzerland and dating back to the 17th century, hornussen was first played mainly as a game for young single farmers.
The sport gets its name from the 78 gram puck, known as a ‘hornuss’ (hornet) or ‘nouss’. When tossed into the air by the striker, it creates a buzzing sound, reaching speeds of up to 300 km/h. The players on the opposing team then try to knock the puck out of the air with schindel – big placards on long sticks – that they toss into the air. The teams consist of 18 players, and games are played in four quarters.
Bossaball – Spain
Bossaball is a team sport that originated in one of our top homestay destinations, Spain. Conceptualised by Filip Eyckmans in 2004 (a Belgian living in Spain for more than ten years) it is similar to volleyball, but also includes elements of football, gymnastics and capoeira.
Each team consists of four or five players. The inflatable court – which is made with integrated trampolines on each side of the net – allows players to bounce and spike the ball. Points are made either by scoring, or by an opponent’s fault. When the ball contacts the floor (either the bottom of the trampoline itself or the inflatables) within the court bounds (the safety border around the trampolines is a free zone), the opposite team gains a score. On this safety border, or ‘bossawall’, the ball may bounce or roll – if it stays still, the point is awarded to the opponent’s team.
Like to give one of these obscure sports a try? Or maybe just test your hand at something a bit safer, like tennis? Thankfully, you don’t have to rely on me for my sporting abilities – GoCambio has more than enough athletic Guests who can offer you genuine hand-eye coordination skills, fast reflexes and a sense of rhythm. (I’ll just keep writing about them).
About the Author: Emma is a 23-year-old copywriter at GoCambio and part-time shoe seller, so she’s always ready to think on her (size 5.5) feet. With a background in English, History, and Creative Advertising, some of Emma’s passions include fashion, travel, writing, film and social media. And tea. Black, no sugar.