5 Intriguing, Obscure, and Strange Sports

I grew up wrestling and playing football and continued pursuing athletic endeavors by playing soccer, racquetball, and tennis in collegiate intermural sports. Sports enable me to stay healthy and fit, promote teamwork and leadership, and provide endless entertainment in the form of friendly competition. I enjoy watching sports, too, and sometimes find strange, obscure games to be really intriguing. During the last summer Olympics, the majority of my viewing schedule was committed to handball. This Nordic-dominated game combines aspects of basketball, soccer, and floor hockey, generating captivating feats of athleticism I enjoyed for hours. When writing about the Winter Olympics, I also learned about bandy, another unique combination of sports that sounds interesting and appealing. This motivated me to write this week’s trivia segment about other strange sports you may never have heard of.

1. Chess Boxing

Chess boxing tests mental and physical strength.

Chess boxing tests mental and physical strength.

Chess boxing, which is exactly what it sounds like, has been officially in existence for about 11 years and has already gained a worldwide following. Over 9 major countries have hosted noteworthy chess boxing events. The World Chess Boxing Organization, the major entity overseeing chess boxing competition, asserts that chess boxing is a hybrid sport designed to test mental and physical capacities by combining the most challenging thinking sport with the toughest fighting sport. It is undoubtedly demanding in both dimensions of human strengths, alternating rounds of chess and boxing (6 rounds of chess and 5 rounds of boxing) that exert the mind and body. The winner is determined by a checkmate, chess time limit (each competitor has 12 total minutes of play time), knockout, judges’ decision, or by an opponent’s resignation. Of course, if this ever became a high stakes’ sport, it might be asked why dominant boxers don’t compete by seeking a knockout and only playing basic, defensive chess. Well, current chess boxing rules require contenders to be experienced chess players with a minimum of “Class A” strength. This ranking is just below expert, and there has been at least one chess-boxer who was a chess grandmaster. Still, while this strange sport has a strong niche following, it’s unlikely we’ll see it on primetime anytime soon.

2. Akankanto

Estonian-style wife carry.

Estonian-style wife carry.

Known by many names, this bizarre sport is literally translated to mean “wife-carrying”. The object is simple: a male competitor races while carrying his female counterpart through a variety of obstacles. In the United Kingdom, one team reversed the roles so there seems to be no specification on who must be carried. There are several styles of wife-carrying, including piggy-back, over-the-shoulder fireman’s carry, and Estonian style (see above picture). The sport is believed to have originated in Finland, but various countries have adopted the sport as well. The Wife Carrying World Championships are held every year, and one decorated Finnish athlete has won the last 5 years (Taisto Miettinen: he also won competitions in other odd sports, including water running, iron bar walking, and bog snorkeling). Athletes like Miettinen are motivated by the coveted prize for the outright winner: his wife’s weight in beer.

3. Cheese-Rolling

Start of the cheese roll.

Start of the cheese roll.

This is another sport whose namesake is not difficult to unravel. Event organizers push a large wheel of cheese down from the top of a steep hill, and contestants scramble and tumble in a fruitless attempt to catch the cheese. (Fruitless, because the cheese can purportedly reach speeds up to 70 mph! The risk of injuring spectators has prompted the implementation of a foam replacement cheese.) The first individual crossing the finish line at the bottom of the hill is crowned the winner, earning the 9-pound wheel of fermented dairy product. Origins of the sport range from apocryphal to unknown, with accounts of the sport forming to solve land disputes and other claims of pagan obsessions with rolling round food down hills. Arguably the largest and most well-known cheese-rolling event is the annual Cooper’s Hill Cheese-Rolling and Wake. The pastoral setting makes the event seems quaint, with 86 year-old cheese maker Diana Smart and her son Rod providing the cheese for the past 25 years, but contestants are repeatedly subject to beating blows from the relentless tag team that is Cooper’s Hill and gravity. Frequent reports of injuries, as well as the possibility of litigation, has prompted city officials to demand increased management of the event at a higher cost to event organizers and contestants. With a the-cheese-must-roll-on attitude, locals have resisted these stipulations by holding spontaneous cheese-rolling events without management. Roll, cheese, roll.

4. Sepak Takraw

Competitive sepak takraw event.

Competitive sepak takraw event.

Sepak Takraw translates to kick volleyball, and the rules are very similar to volleyball – except Sepak Takraw athletes are forbidden from using their hands and arms to touch the ball. The exclusive use of feet, chest, knee, or head to direct the ball over the net promotes acrobatic displays of athletic prowess. Matches are contested on a small court where up to three players of each team attempt to sail a ball over a relatively short net. The ball is traditionally made of interwoven rattan, which is a type of palm. Popular in Malaysia, Thailand, and the surrounding regions, this sport is mentioned in a recorded text dating back to the 15th century. This ancient sport entices with its gymnastic feats of physical strength and flexibility.

5. Kabaddi

Kabaddi raider infiltrating her opponents' side.

Kabaddi raider infiltrating her opponents’ side.

If you grew up with a swimming pool, or you knew someone who had one, the sport Kabaddi might sound vaguely familiar to you. In competition, Kabaddi is more commonly played on land, but it is reminiscent of tag-like games played in pools. Two teams are divided on a playing field by a center line and teams alternate sending a “raider” to the opposing team’s half. The object of the raider is to tag members of the opposing team. The raider, however, must return to her side of the court before taking a breath. The raider shouts an elongated “KABADDI” and must return to her side before completing the last syllable. If a defender is tagged out or if the raider runs out of breath on the opposing team’s side, a point is scored. The team with the most points at the end of the match wins. Kabaddi is popular in areas around India, with Bangladesh embracing kabaddi as its national sport. It appeared on a major global stage during the Berlin Olympics in 1936 but has not returned since then. Kabaddi may initially evoke childhood memories with its stylized capture-the-flag/tag-esque rules of play, but kabaddi athletes compete on an international level at regular global events.

Know of any strange sports yourself? Do some of these not sound so odd to you? Leave a comment below!


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