If you think cricket is a strange sport, check out this list. This photo was taken from the 2009 Wife Carrying Championship. And that’s not all. Imagine a game where everybody goes around chasing a giant chunk of cheese. Or a couple of bikers slogging though a swamp, dressed in snorkeling gear.
These sports may never become part of the Olympics (although we’d like to see ‘chess boxing’ on national TV) but they have their own following in their own corners of the world. And the athletes do take the game seriously. Gotta admit, it does take a lot of muscles (and guts) to drive your mountain bike into a chest-high swamp.
1. The Cooper’s Hill Cheese Rolling and Wake
Every year, people gather at Gloucester, England for the much-awaited Cheese Rolling Event. Basically, people run after a giant round of Double Gloucester Cheese, a very hard kind of cheese that is produced in cylindrical blocks. Supposedly, whoever catches the cheese gets to bring it home, but that’s easier said than done. Speed can reach up to 70 miles per hour—faster than any runner can manage—so it ends up being like any other race.
The tradition is over 200 years old, but the event only got international attention after comedian Dave Allen featured it in his show in the 1970’s. Now it attracts tourists who are actually at greater risk for injury than the people in the race (the cheese can knock over and hurt a spectator). The official Cheeserolling website discourages people from attending since the hill is steep and can only accommodate a crowd of 2,000.
This game, which is played in India and Bangladesh, involves two teams of 12 people (7 on the field, and 5 reserves). They each take their place on opposite sides of a court. The teams take turns sending one player, who holds his breath while muttering ‘Kabaddi’ and touching all opponents without getting caught. Anyone touched or tagged must leave the court. The team earns one point for every player that is tagged, and two extra points (or Iona) if the entire team is tagged.
Kabaddi was demonstrated at the 1936 Berlin Olympics and at the Indian Olympic games in 1938. It became popular in Japan, and is slowly gaining a small but avid international following. A World Kabaddi Championship was held in Canada, with teams from India, Pakistan, Canada, England and the United States. It has also been included in the Asian Games.
3. Mountain Bike Bog Snorkelling
Picture a dirty swamp in Wales—the Waen Rhydd swamp to be exact, located in Llanwrytd Wells. Here, race participants must either swim or bike across it—in a test of skill, endurance, and tolerance to filthy water.
As one athlete said in this video: ‘It’s a lot harder than it looks. It’s like carrying a handbag while you swim.’ The swamp water creates resistance, and you can see the much clinging to the athletes’ body when they get out. You got to be in pretty good physical condition to swim that fast when you’re essentially making your way through sludge. The sport started in 2000, and more recent variants include going through the swamp on a mountain bike
3. Chess Boxing
This sport—invented by Dutch artist Iepe Rubingh, based on the fictional games in the comic books of Serbian artist Enki Bilal—combines two popular but very different hobbies: boxing and chess.
Basically, the match has alternating rounds of chess and boxing. Each round lasts about four minutes, and the game can extend to a maximum of 11 rounds. Players have just a minute to rest between they go back to the ring.
The game obviously combines brains and brawn, since a match can be won either through a knockout or a checkmate. (This game uses speed chess, and must be decided within 12 minutes. A player that takes too long to make a move receives a warning and must act within 10 minutes. Too many warnings can lead to disqualification.)
The game first became popular in Finland, but has its own cult following and now holds tournaments around the world (check the list of events in the official World Chess Boxing Organization website). The game inspired the music group Wu-Tang Clan to name their debut album ‘Da Mystery of Chessboxin”.
This is a popular sport in Afghanistan, Kyrgyztan and the countries of Central Asia. In some ways, it’s a lot like polo. Two teams, riding horses, attempt to take control of a headless goat or calf on the ground while they’re at full gallop. They must then somehow break free from the crowd and throw the animal carcass to a circle in the middle of the field.
But in many ways, this game is actually harder than polo. Players are allowed to use a number of tricks to prevent a player from getting a goal. That’s why they wear such thick clothes and thick headgear—it’s normal to get kicked or hit with a whip. A game can also extend over several days, so endurance is crucial. And a dead calf is considerably heavier than a polo ball. Usually, the calf in a Bukhasi game is beheaded, disemboweled, and the skin is toughened in cold water for several days. Sometimes, for extra challenge, sand is sewn into the carcass.
5. Eukonkanto (Wife Carrying Championship)
Some believe the sport started out from a joke in Finland, based on an old ritual where men courted women by carrying them to prove their strength and dedication. (You could say they wanted to ‘sweep them off their feet.’) However, people now take this game very seriously. It has a worldwide following and has events in Wisconsin, Michigan, and Finland (where it first started). Maine also holds an annual ‘North American Wife Carrying Championship.’
Men can carry their wives (or any female teammate) using different holds: piggyback, over the shoulder, our upside down with the legs around his shoulders (an odd position called ‘Estonian style’).
The game follows the rules set by the International Wife Carrying Competition Rules Committee (we’re not kidding), which includes the length of the track (253.5 meters, with two dry obstacles and one water obstacle), and minimum weight of the wife (49 kilograms). Think you’re up to it? Sign up at the official Wife Carrying Website.