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Horseback wrestling, dead goat polo: World Nomad Games a shot in the arm for anyone bored of the Olympics

Event that preserves traditional sports played by Turkic nomadic peoples kicks off its third edition in Kyrgyzstan featuring more than 40 sports contested by athletes from dozens of countries

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 04 September, 2018, 6:00pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 04 September, 2018, 6:00pm

The picturesque Kyrchyn gorge in Kyrgyzstan was awash with colour this week as dancers and horse riders entertained international and local guests of the World Nomad Games.

Kyrgyzstan, an impoverished former Soviet republic, has promoted the games as a way of preserving traditional sports – most of which were played by Turkic nomadic peoples over the centuries – while boosting its fledgling tourism sector.

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The games, held near the shores of the country’s Lake Issyk-Kul, feature more than 40 sports contested by hundreds of athletes from dozens of countries, with Kyrgyzstan’s Central Asian neighbours and Russia tending to send the largest teams.

Kyrgyzstan is handing the games over to Turkey for 2020, which has saddened some in the country but relieved others, given the tens of millions of dollars poured into the event in the last four years.

Talgat Soodakov, a sportsman who will compete later this week in a polo-like game played on horses with a headless goat carcass for a ball, said he could not be certain he would be able to compete at the games in Turkey.

“Still, it will be interesting to see how another country organises the games,” he said.

The serious action was getting under way on Tuesday. Monday saw spectacles showcasing Kyrgyz culture put on for spectators. There were at least 1,000 foreign tourists in a crowd of up to 10,000 in Kyrchyn.

One traditional Turkic game that earned loud applause and whoops from spectators saw a female rider gallop past a male competitor and playfully whip him as he strained to overtake her.

The objective of the male rider in the game, called kyz kuu, is to steal a kiss from the woman rider as he overtakes her, but only a few managed it during the show on Monday.

Kim Bo-kyum, a 55-year-old professor from South Korea, said he had come to Kyrgyzstan specifically to watch the games and was taken aback by the pine-covered mountains of the Issyk-Kul region.

“I hadn’t the slightest clue what [the games] would be like but I was interested in finding out more about the nomads of the region,” he said.

In addition to the goat polo game, known as kokboru or buzkashi, and other horse games – including wrestling on horseback – the World Nomad Games have showcased different types of wrestling and “intellectual games”, including one played with a sheep’s anklebones.

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