Unusual Sports from Around the World

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Travel Features >> Unusual Sports from Around the World

Unusual Sports from Around the World

January 12, 2012

Here is a list of some of the most unusual sports from around the world - lesser known about, yet probably as exciting as the popular sports out there.

Granted – there’s nothing like a sporting event to bring out the best and worst of a culture. (Consider the barmy army and then contrast them with the yobs, one a Union Jack-flying beer-drinking lot that follows the English cricket team around and the other a lot of louts and a law and order nightmare for any town that the English team may be playing football in.) But – while ‘the best’ and ‘the worst’ is all very well, there is a whole spectrum of qualities between the two extremes. It is these that come to the fore with the lesser known sports, which an outsider can begin to appreciate perhaps because they’re held on a smaller, more intimate scale.

Gaelic Football - Ireland

The Irish play football too, but with a difference! Gaelic Football as it is called, is an invigorating game, a happy mix between rugby and soccer. The game has a fast tempo and a huge Irish fan following that turn out in great numbers to watch their favourite game. Fifteen players battle it out on the field kicking and sometimes carrying the ball in the hand (rules allow a player to carry the ball in the hand for a distance of four steps) trying to get it to the goal. This game is for the tough as it is rough!

The Irish play this game that originated in the 16th century, with a great zeal and passion. So be sure to catch the verve at Croke Park Stadium in Dublin – the enthusiasm is exhilarating and it is difficult not to be part of the excitement on fast-paced match-day!

Unterwasser RugbyGermany

What are you looking at if you see 12 scuba suits chasing each other and a ball? In the pursuit of fresh games man has invented many sports – and here’s underwater rugby. Borrow a ball from the friendly neighbourhood water polo club, pump it not with air but saline water, find a bunch of need-to-stay-in-shape divers, get two wire baskets and good clean pool, and voila! You’ve got yourself a game.

The game was first devised in 1961 at the German Underwater Club in Cologne. However it wasn’t the Cologne version of the game, which used to string a net across the middle of the pool which ended a metre from the bottom so the players could swim through and dunk the ball in the opposing team’s goal that goes by the name of underwater rugby today. Substantial changes have been made over the years; teams now have 6 playing members instead of 8, and various rules have been fine-tuned. Underwater rugby was recognised by the Confédération Mondiale des Activités Subaquatic (CMAS) in 1978. The first European Championship was held in 1978 in Malmo, Sweden and the first World Championship two years later, at Mülheim in Federal Democratic Republic.

Thai Kickboxing - Bangkok, Thailand

Muay Thai, that’s the name of the game, which the CIA and the US SEALs and the Thai Royal Army play when they don’t quite like what you’re up to! No, actually, Thai kick boxing is not an offence but a self-defence art. Thai children begin to pick it up when they’ve just about begun to learn how to balance. From 4 years of age a major number of these kids enrol at kickboxing schools in affirmation of cultural traditions.

Unlike Tae kwon do and karate where students earn belts for every new grade that they achieve, Muay Thai does not award any grades. The reward is earned in the ring, in a real fight at a real tournament; that’s what separates the truly dedicated, truly disciplined, truly dexterous from the casual practitioner.

Muay Thai does not include ground grappling techniques but relies on the deadly and accurate use of fists, knees, elbows and kicks. Of course, you can catch a kickboxing match anywhere now – from the Netherlands to Brazil – but for the real McCoy you’ll have to wend your way through Bangkok’s busy streets to the Lumpini Stadium (Tuesday, Friday, Saturday) or the Ratchadamnoen ring (Monday, Wednesday, Thursday, Saturday). Place your bet and get swept up in the wave of spectator enthusiasm.

Kite Flying Festival – Ahmedabad, India

Every year in January the skies of India come alive with innumerable fluttering kites of every colour imaginable. In India the point about kite flying is not the beauty and the construction of the kite but the dexterity of the handler and Patang-baazi (the fight of kites) is as much a competitive sport as cricket. The effort of the guy handling the kite (whether the kite is in the shape of an exotic bird or a simple rhombus with a triangular tail is largely immaterial) is directed towards getting as many other kites down as possible. And how is this accomplished? Quite simply by using the string of the kite to cut the string of another: the spool of string that anchors the kite is, in India and all over the subcontinent, coated with glass dust and if one isn’t careful liable to cut ones fingers. Every winter, when it’s cool and breezy, countless kids and adults congregate on roofs of houses or in open fields and the sky becomes a riot of colours. The season reaches its peak in the mid-January festival of Makar Sankranti.

It is in the city of Ahmedabad in Gujarat, western India, that a fitting tribute to this sport is organised. The International Kite Festival is held annually on the 14th of January at either the Sardar Patel Stadium or the Police Stadium in Ahmedabad. While the entire city is up and about from dawn engaged in the sport, kite-flyers from around the world assemble at the stadium to show off their kites, some beautiful, some ingenious, some containing social messages but all exotic. As dusk falls special illuminated kites called tukal are launched as a grand finale to the festival and the kite-flying season.

So if you have a kite that’s in any way unusual, whether it’s of paper of fibreglass, make sure you are in Ahmedabad to participate at the event.

Elephant Polo – Royal Chitwan National Park, Nepal

Come December and it gets wonderfully pleasant in the terai. The terai are the lush green plains that lie just before the Himalayan foothills. Blessed with plenty of rainfall and a subtropical climate, this area used to be a densely forested paradise where elephants, tigers, rhino and langur roamed free, where the branches of trees would house innumerable avian species and the rivers were teeming with crocodiles and mahseer. Today the Mahendra Rajmarg or the East-West highway wends its way through the terai, and it is no longer virgin jungle. Just as well, perhaps, because then you’d miss the elephant polo!

If “polo” brings to mind shiny-coated horses and the swift pursuit of a polo ball, here’s your rethink. In early December at the Chitwan National Park in Nepal’s southeastern plains the World Elephant Polo Association holds the annual WEPA tournament at a grass airfield in Meghauli on the park’s northern boundary.

It’s a four a-side event: four elephants each side prompted by four mahouts behind whom the players are perched, mallet in hand. The ball used is the standard polo ball, which the players must hit over the other side’s goal line. There are two 10-minute chukkers separated by a 15-minute break after which the teams change sides. Those are the basics; for the finer points, pop in at Chitwan for the games this December and follow it up with a stay at the sanctuary. There are few nicer ways to cheat the winter chill!

Hawaiki Nui Va’a – French Polynesia

Every October the open seas around the Pacific islands of French Polynesia come alive with ripples. That’s when a huge number of carefully constructed canoes take to the waters, propelled by the rippling muscular action of deliciously bronze men, as they make their way through the blue (oh! so blue) waters from Huahine to Bora Bora.

The canoe in this case is the traditional vessel of these islands, not an inflatable rubber tube but a hollowed out log that’s been in use for centuries. Called the wa’a in Hawaii and known as the waka ama in New Zealand, va’a is the Tahitian name for this kind of craft.

The 130 km race consists of three legs: from Huahine to Raiatea, from Raiatea to Tahaa, and finally from Tahaa to Bora Bora. You can catch it at any point but if you’re in it not just for the finer points of canoe racing, try to catch the end at Pointe Matira, Bora Bora. Because that’s where you can catch the bringue, traditional Polynesian partying that’s guaranteed to be very, very merry!

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