MOSCOW, September 11 (RIA Novosti) – Nomadic instincts will awaken in the mounted participants of Asia’s first goat polo championship that is being held in Kazakhstan this week, according to local sports officials and media reports.
The bloody sport – beloved by Central Asian nomads and their descendants – involves two teams of horsemen fighting for the headless torso of a goat or lamb. The game – known in Kazakhstan as “kokpar” – was banned in Soviet Central Asia in the 1950s, but enjoyed a regional revival in the early 1990s.
The championship’s first game started Wednesday at the central hippodrome in Astana, Kazakhstan’s capital, the Kazinform news website reported. More than 100 participants from nine countries – Russia and four ex-Soviet Central Asian nations, as well as Afghanistan, Mongolia, Turkey and China – will compete over a four-day period, and the winner will take home 10 million tenge ($65,000), it said.
Horse-riding participants have to lift a goat torso off the ground and throw it in the rival team’s goal during a game of two halves that last 20 minutes each, according to the game’s rules posted on Astana’s official website. Each team consists of 10 participants, but only four players from each team at a time take part in the action on a field 200 meters long and 80 meters wide, the rules say.
One of the championship’s goals is nothing less than the “awakening” of nomadic instincts, a Kazakh sports official was cited as saying.
“During such games, the instinct of a steppe nomad awakens in participants,” Dauren Abdykhamitov, vice president of Kazakhstan’s National Sports Association, told the Liter.kz news website. “These feelings are part of us, like a genetic code that is almost dormant because of our daily slow-moving lifestyle.”
The game has also been known to awaken violence: In late August, fans rooting for one of the goat polo teams in neighboring Kyrgyzstan ganged up on the referee, who in their opinion had unfairly disallowed their team’s goal and had even taken a swing at one of the players, Kyrgyz media reported. At least half a dozen spectators rushed onto the field and started beating and kicking the referee, and the beating ended only after police officers stepped in and took away the unconscious umpire, the reports said.
The Asian goat polo games will be a biannual event, and Turkey has expressed an interest in hosting the next “kokpar” championship in 2015, according to Astana’s website.
The rather more refined British equestrian sport of polo, which originated in India, grew out of a game with Central Asian origins that came to the subcontinent with the Mogul dynasty, sports historians say.