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AFP Photo exhibition : “Sport and Tradition”
Bull racing in Pakistan is a centuries-old sport that predates its comparatively more sedate horseback counterpart.
The jockeys -- mostly local fanners -- balance precariously on wooden planks behind a pair of rampaging bulls as they hurtle down a dusty race course.
One of the largest races takes place in Attock district, some 80 kilometres from the capital Islamabad, and attracts wealthy landlords and farmers from ail over Punjab province.
In the months leading up to the race, farmers f eed their animais milk and other f oods that are meant to turn the docile beasts of burden into speed machines.
On race day competitors parade their bulls bef ore spectators, tossing money into the air for good luck. As the bulls charge away from the starting line, fans light firecrackers to give them that extra boost.
Another more unusual form of bull racing sees the animais blindfolded and raced in circular laps around a water pump. Cash prizes are awarded to the winners.
A ferocious version of polo, in which scores of horsemen use a headless goat in place of a ball, Afghanistan's national sport is not for the faint-hearted.
The action is fast and furious as hundreds of horsemen known as chapandaz -- dressed in colourful robes, baggy trousers and leather boots -- wrestle over the dead animal, fighting off competitors eager to snatch it away.
The rider who manages to scoop up the heavy carcass charges across the dusty pitch, swerves around a pole and drops it into a small circle to score a point.
Buzkashi is believed to have originated in central Asia, reputedly around the time of 13th century emperor Genghis Khan. It is now played, under a variety of different names, across central Asia, in Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan and western China. Legend has it that the sport was initially played by warriors using the corpse of a defeated enemy.
Each year in June, finalists in the violent Renaissance sport of Calcio storico face off in Florence's famous Santa Croce square. The competition, held in honour of Jean-Baptiste, the Tuscan capital's patron saint, sees burly men in historical costumes wrestle for the ball in agame that combines elements of football, boxing and rugby. The elegant piazza becomes a mud bath for the occasion, echoing the original conditions the game was played in, when rich nobles -- no peasants allowed -- played every evening between Christmas and Easter.
The blue, red, white and green teams from the city's four quarters face off before the two overall winners go on to the final. The teams of 27 players compete on the number of goals scored and almost ail punches are allowed. The brutal and bloody tradition began in the 16th century. By the 18th century it had been largely forgotten, before being revived in the 1930s.
The unusual sport of coal carrying started as a bet in a pub in the northem English village of Gawthorpe. After what the village website describes as some "well-earned liquid refreshment," a fitness challenge was laid down between two locals: Who could carry a sack of coal fastest from the pub to the village Maypole? Thus was bom the "W orld Coal Carrying Championships," held on Easter Monday since that bet in 1963. Competitors carry a 50-kilogramme sack of coal for just over a kilometre - mainly uphill! To finish, racers must dump the sack on the village green near the Maypole. The "W orld Record" is just over four minutes, which would be an impressive time even without hauling a sack of coal on the back.
Dragon Boat Racing
An ancient sport practised for more than 2,000 years in southern China, Dragon Boat Racing sees teams of paddlers cram into longboats adomed with brightly coloured dragon heads and tails.
Most popular in East Asia but now with participants worldwide, teams of 22 -- including a drummer at the prow -- race across sea, rivers and lakes, commonly competing over a distance of 500 metres.
In Asia, the races take place in early summer each year as part of a popular festival which includes eating sticky rice dumplings.
The event is said to date back to the suicide of Chinese poet Qu Yuan, who drowned himself.
Legend has it that local fishermen tried to rescue him but failed. They then beat the water with their paddles, banged drums and threw in rice dumplings to stop the fish from eating Qu's body.
Kushti is a traditional form of wrestling practised in India and Pakistan, with roots going back several thousand years. The male participants wear only bright-coloured loincloths and smear oil on their bodies to help evade the grapples of their opponents. The freestyle matches last about half an hour, and a wrestler typically wins by simultaneously pinning an opponent's shoulders and hips to the ground.
Kushti wrestlers ( or "pehlwans") work out in traditional gyms and training centres known as "akhara". Most akhara these days use modern gym mats, but those with mud and dirt floors still exist.
The special clay used in traditional kushti wrestling pits is primarily dirt, but can also contain oil, buttermilk, yoghurt, ghee ( clarified butter), ochre or ground turmeric.
Dressed in flowing red skirts and draped in colourful bead necklaces, the warriors from the legendary Kenyan tribe are one of the world's most unusual cricket teams.
Cricket, imported into Kenya during British colonial rule, is played in a handful of schools and in the east African country's largest cities.
None of the players on the Maasai Cricket Warriors team had even heard of the sport until 2007, when Aliya Bauer, a South African cricket fan, began introducing local schoolchildren in the village of 01 Polei to the game.
But the Maasai team are not just out to play a good game, but to raise awareness about key issues that their community faces.
They visit schools to talk about AIDS prevention, early marriage, gender equality, environmental protection and battling alcoholism and drug addiction.
The Maasai team uses cricket metaphors to deliver messages within its highly traditional and patriarchal community, in which early marriage and female genital mutilation are firmly rooted customs.
Another key issue that the cricketers can flag is the impact rampant poaching is having on wildlife.
The sport of water buffalo racing, or "Makepung" emerged in the 1960s when two communities on either side of the Ijo Gading river on the Indonesian island of Bali, took a competitive approach to working their fields, with farmers racing each other as they laboured.
What started off as a bit of fun evolved into a serious competition and now the communities field teams each year for the July-November racing season.
Races are a colourful spectacle with participants standing on speeding carts with flags fluttering from the top, as two buffaloes pull each of the rudimentary vehicles.
Fans of the sport fear it is in danger of dying out. Regular competitors tend to be in their 50s and few younger villagers are keen to take up the reins.
The K1rkp1nar oil wrestling festival is one of the oldest sports tournaments in the world. Thousands of people from different regions of Turkey as well as f oreign tourists travel every summer to the city of Edirne to see the "pehlivanlar" (wrestlers) fight for the K1rkp1nar Golden Belt and the title of Chief Pehlivan.
The wrestlers, stripped to the waist, wear "k1spet," thick trousers made of water buffalo or cow leather, which weigh about 12 kg. They are drenched in olive oil from head to toe. The one-on-one combats staged every summer closely resemble the first ones held more than 650 years ago. As the wrestling takes place, the drum and shawm bands play the traditional repertoire of the festival.
K1rkp1nar oil wrestling was inscribed on the UNESCO list of the intangible cultural heritage ofhumanity.
Three tons of olive oil are used each year for the occasion.
In the late 1980s and early 1990s, a group of teenagers from the Paris suburbs started training in strength and agility games involving conquering their fears, running, clearing obstacles, jumping and climbing. Then in 1997, the nine most tenacious members formed a group called the Yamakasi. That same year, they were noticed at an event organised by the Paris fire brigade and in the 2000s, a media storm surrounded the new discipline, which would end up being featured in several films. W orldwide, there are now hundreds of thousands of parkour practitioners, who call themselves "traceurs". They move using only their bodies -- without any equipment -- along seemingly impossible urban or natural assault courses. "Freerunning" has its roots in parkour but places more emphasis on the aesthetics of the movements.
Indian scholars believe yoga dates back 5,000 years, based on archaeological evidence of poses found inscribed on stones and references to Y ogic teachings in the ancient Hindu scriptures of the Vedas.
Gurus from India introduced yoga to the west in the late 19th and early 20th century, and its popularity as a physical exercise has grown exponentially since the 1980s to become a multi-billion-dollar global industry- a commercial trend that has been criticized by some practitioners who feel it has undermined yoga's meditative and spiritual core.
Celebrity Indian yoga guru Baba Ramdev recently claimed to have set a new world record for the largest yoga session by gathering more than 300,000 practitioners at an open-air ground in the western city of Ahmedabad.
The Palio of Siena
Twice a year, on 2 July and 16 August, the Tuscan city of Siena goes wild for the Palio: the oldest horse race in Europe.
Crowds of eager spectators begin filling the centre of the magnificent Piazza del Campo from first light. Tonnes of earth are laid on the cobblestones to create a circular track. Ten of the 17 mediaeval quarters or "contrade" of the city -- boasting such colourful names as the Owl, the Wolf, the Forest, the Giraffe -- are selected to participate.
Each quarter has spent a f everish year preparing, making costumes and rehearsing for the fiercely fought competition, which dates back over four centuries.
On the night of the race speed is everything: the winner is the horse who finishes three laps of the piazza first, with or without his rider!
And the four-legged participants can look forward to a relaxing future, with elderly Palio horses enjoying life at a retirement home in the lush Tuscan hills.
Professional bull riding has its roots in the New World. Severa! types of cowboy emerged there, including the vaqueras of Mexico and the gauchos of Argentina, though variants can be found in other parts of the world including Australia and Hawaii.
Rodeos are competitions testing the skills needed to work on the open plains and on ranches requiring the mastery of horses and cattle. The first rodeos in the United States were held in the 19th century.
Common rodeo events include bull riding, bronco riding, cattle roping and steer wrestling. Clowns perform to bring light relief to the proceedings.
Rodeo eventually became professionalised and is popular in the US, Canada, Mexico, South America and Australia.
Bull riders compete to ride the violently bucking animal for as long as possible and must stay on for eight seconds to score points.
The centuries-old sport of sepak takraw is popular across Southeast Asia and was originally played with a grapefruit-sized ball fashioned from straps of rattan with 12 ho les.
It was played with two teams of three facing each other on a court about the same size as a badminton court, with a raised net. Players kick and head the ball over the net, but aren't allowed to touch it with their hands or arms.
Nowadays a synthetic fibre ball has replaced the old type -- although they still have the trademark multiple holes.
Top players can execute a spike kick that accelerates the ball to speeds of 145 km/h (90 mph).
Japan's ancient sport of sumo is thought to date back more than 2,000 years, when it was frrst used as a test of a fighter's strength.
It retains many Shinto religious overtones, such as wrestlers purifying the ring with sait before doing battle.
Historians claim the modem f orm -- where wrestlers look to force each other out of the raised ring -- can be traced back to the 16th century as entertainment for the warlord Oda Nobunaga. The 'mawashi' fighting belts of today were skimpy loincloths.
Wrestlers follow a spartan life of brutal daily training sessions in communal sumo stables dominated by a strict hierarchy.
Japanese wrestlers have struggled in recent years to fend off an overseas invasion which began in earnest with Hawaiian giant Konishiki and other hulking Pacifie islanders in the early 1990s. The subsequent rise of Mongolian grand champions -- or "yokozuna" -- such as Asashoryu and the record-breaking Hakuho has further tonnented local sumo traditionalists.
Tai chi is a centuries-old Chinese martial art that has its roots in ancient culture, just like traditional Chinese medicine. It involves a series of slow, meditative body movements that were originally design ed for self-defence and to promote inner peace and cairn.
It is based on Taoist tenets that there are two opposing life forces, yin and yang, which govem health. Ill health results from an imbalance in these forces, but it can be corrected by tai chi, according to practitioners. Earl y moming tai chi sessions, especially for the elderly, are a common sight in many Chinese cities.
In April this year, a video of Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) fighter Xu Xiaodong demolishing tai chi master Wei Lei in seconds in the Chinese city of Chengdu went viral online. The beatdown sparked a heated debate over the relevance of traditional martial arts, with one Chinese tycoon offering 10 million yuan ($US 1.45 million) to anyone willing to avenge the loss.
With its use of punches, elbows, knees and kicks, Mua y Thai ( or Thai boxing) is an unf orgiving martial art based on aggression, speed and endurance.
Centuries-old, it is revered in Thailand as a close-quarters fighting technique once used by warriors championing kings and noblemen.
Now, it is a wildly popular spectator sport drawing fight fans and gamblers alike to its blend of ritual and bloody pugilism.
Before a bout, fighters warm up in the ring to traditional pipe music, then bow to their teacher bef ore launching into their opponent for a maximum of five rounds.
Muay Thai has long been a route from poverty for some of the country's poorest kids -bath girls and boys -- who are drilled from childhood in the tough contact sport.
But it has also become a global fitness craze and dedicated gyms have sprung up from New York to Singapore, while MMA (Mixed Martial Arts) fighters also draw heavily on Muay Thai techniques.
Wushu is a form of contemporary Chinese martial art that blends elements of performance and full-contact sparring. Developed in China after 1949, in an effort to standardize the disparate branches and styles of traditional Chinese martial arts, wushu emphasizes quickness, explosive power, and natural, relaxed movement. The wushu practitioner must combine flexibility with strength, speed with flawless technique, tierce intent with eff ortless execution.
In contemporary times, wushu has become an international sport through the International Wushu Federation (IWUF), which holds the World Wushu Championships every two years; the first W orld Championships were held in 1991 in Beijing.
In the non-contact performance version of wushu, competitors are judged on technique and style as they execute a series of movements - either barehanded, or with short or long weapons.