Asia traditional sports

A crowd roars as a favourite local wrestler pins his opponent for the championship. A rumble of shock as a single horse-and-jockey fall to the back of a long field of galloping racers. Tense anticipation as kok boru captains astride their horses struggle for possession of a goat carcass and control of the game. For the Central Asian nations, language and history are not the only ties that bind.


Nomadic sporting traditions handed down over thousands of years have been used in Central Asia to train for work and for war. Almost all are played exclusively by men, although women’s Kyrgyz wrestling is sometimes present in modern competitions.

A resurgence in the popularity of these games across Central Asia, as well as the hosting of international competitions such as the World Nomad Games, in recent years has also transformed them into a vehicle for sharing the region’s culture with the broader world. Watching these traditional sports is a rich addition to any trip through the region.


Kok boru

Kok boru – or goat-carcass polo – is the most famous of Central Asia’s traditional sports, and certainly the one that grabs the most headlines. Historically, the sport was used to train young shepherds to protect their herds from predatory wildlife and prepare them for the realities of war. Legend says that the game, whose name translates as ‘grey wolf’ in the Turkic languages or ‘goat grabbing’ from the Persian buzkashi, was created when a group of horsemen on the steppe cooperated to catch the wolves that worried their livestock.

The modern version is played in most of Central Asia with two teams fighting for possession of the carcass, known as the buz. The team that tosses it into the kazan goals on either end of the field the most number of times wins. Kok boru is a central feature of the Nowruz festival throughout the region, as well as many national holidays.


Equestrian wrestling

Er enish consists of two wrestlers on horseback attempting to throw one another off. The rules are simple: the first to touch the ground loses. The primary focus is rider versus rider, of course, but skilled combatants also train their mounts to get into the game.