For all the media’s focus on big-money events, it’s often weird local games or odd new hybrid events that really capture the joy of sport across the world. So we asked the authors of The Rough Guide to Cult Sport to select their ten favourite strange sports from the book (with apologies to the likes of cardboard tube duelling, cheese rolling, dwarf throwing, Irish road bowling, underwater ice hockey and yak racing, which didn’t quite make the cut).
Chess Boxing – Worldwide
This most schizophrenic of sports originated in a comic book from which the strange notion of splicing together chess and boxing was taken by Dutchman Iepe Rubingh.The winner of a contest overcomes his opponent in either one of the alternating rounds of chess or boxing.
Haka Pei – Easter Island, Chile
A cousin in spirit to England’s cheese rolling, in Haka Pei participants are timed hurtling down a steep hill strapped to a banana tree stump, sliding at speeds of up to 50 mph. Originally the event was linked to the training of local warriors though it is now a central event of the annual festival of Tapati.
Panjat Pinang – Indonesia
A vital part of Indonesian independence celebrations, Panjat Panang sees various objects, such as bikes and televisions, hung as prizes at the top of liberally-greased nut or palm tree trunks. Oddly enough, climbing up is not easy and it is not individuals but more often youthful groups working together that reach the top earliest to secure the best goodies.
Kataw – Laos, South East Asia
Not so much odd as miraculous to western eyes, Kataw is a volleyball-style game that requires high-kicking acrobatics and dazzling levels of balance. The most spectacular move is the equivalent of the volleyball “spike”, performed via a bicycle-kick and usually defended close to the net in the same way. In Malaysia they call this strange sport Sepak Tekraw.
Idiotarod – North America
Take one shopping cart, five matching costumes, an abundance of weird projectiles and plenty of strong liquor and you’ve got yourself an entry for the Idiotarod (liquor not required, but encouraged). More party than competition, in New York’s version there are team awards for “best in show” (costume) and “best sabotage”. Oh and there’s a race around a route with checkpoints too.
Calcio Storico Fiorentino – Florence, Italy
Imagine rugby without rules, or American football without helmets, padding or even shirts. Imagine a game in which whilst wearing little but colourful breaches you can tackle off the ball, throw punches and pin an opponent to the ground for the duration. 27-a side Calcio Storico, which dates back to 1530, is not for the faint-hearted.
Tejo – Colombia, South America
Colombia’s much-loved national game (often played like darts with beer to hand) is a throwing sport consisting of pitching small metal discs from sixty feet at a single metal ring surrounded by pouches of gunpowder. Hitting a pouch (three points) should trigger a minor explosion, but the big points (six) are given for getting your disk within the ring.
Robot Camel Racing – Kuwait & Qatar
World-cup host-to-be Qatar was the leading technical pioneer in this burgeoning sport. Cyber-jockeys were introduced in races to replace child jockeys at risk from the animals’ hooves. Camels however, still have to endure the occasional whip from their strange midget riders who can do clever things like measure the speed and heart rate of their mount.
Bog Snorkelling – Wales, UK
With its strikingly mud-drenched contestants, Bog Snorkelling has become something of a dirty poster boy of weird sports. The annual world championships, held every August, started some thirty years ago at Llanwrtyd Wells. Participants have to swim two soggy sixty-metre stretches of a trench specially cut into a Welsh peat bog.
Trugo – Melbourne, Australia
The following of Trugo is restricted to a small square of northwest Melbourne. In the 1920s, railway worker Tom Grieves improvised a working-class elaboration of croquet using odd rail yard tools and parts such as mallets for driving in rail spikes and rubber rings from carriage couplings. Only a few Trugo clubs remain – secret gems with tiny shed pavilions and corrugated tin roofs.