DUBAI: The Olympic Games might be the world’s oldest celebration of sport, but a newer player on the global stage offers a fascinating alternative.
The World Nomad Games, being held for the third time in Kyrgyzstan this week, are a dazzling display of traditional sports in this corner of the world.
Held once every two years since 2014 under the patronage of UNESCO, the games have been growing steadily, from 20 countries attending the first event to 80 this year, including Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Kuwait, Egypt, Lebanon, Jordan and Iraq.
This year’s high-profile visitors included Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, whose country will host the fourth World Nomad Games in 2020, and the Crown Prince of Fujairah, Sheikh Mohammed bin Hamad Al-Sharqi.
Since Sunday’s opening in Cholpon-Ata on the shores of Issyk-Kul Lake, there have been yurt-building competitions and nomad fashion shows, but mostly there have been sports.
Competitions involve traditional takes on well-known sports such as archery, arm-wrestling, tug of war, sumo wrestling and horse racing, but many are much lesser known. Take Kok Boru, for instance: A traditional Kyrtyz horseback competition in which teams throw a dead sheep or goat into their opponent’s well on the field. It dates back to a time when men returning from the hunt would chase the wolves away from their sheep, picking them up and throwing them between one another.
There is also more than one form of belt wrestling, an ancient nomad way of fighting that involves going after your opponent’s belt. And if all of this sounds a little rough, there are also “intellectual games” such as mangala, played with stones on a board.
It should come as no surprise that Kyrgyzstan, as the host for three years running, was well ahead in the medal count heading into the final day on Saturday, although the UAE was reported to have won a gold medal.