These traditional sports festivals around the world are pretty unusual—if not downright strange—and although they are not to be missed, you’re definitely safer as a spectator.
People everywhere love to compete—to win bragging rights for being the best, greatest, or strongest in a particular sport. However according to gold medal-winning American gymnast Mary Lou Retton, “A trophy carries dust. Memories last forever.” And that’s exactly what you’ll appreciate after watching any of the sporting competitions listed in this guide: extraordinary memories of out-of-the-ordinary sports.
These different events take place all around the world—some transform “normal” sporting activities like wrestling, carrying weights, or throwing objects over distances. Other events are more bizarre and will make you assess the very definition of the word “sport.” Regardless, all of them share one quality: They are a lot of fun to watch.
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Fingerhakln (Finger Pulling Competition)
Fingerhakln (finger pulling) is a competition involving a looped leather strap, a table, and two Germans dressed in lederhosen sitting on stools. It dates back to the 17th century and is believed to have been the manly way of solving arguments. Competitors each hook one finger (but never the thumb) into the strap and then tug as hard as they can to see who can pull the other over first. They take it extremely seriously, as you’d expect. Participants train by dangling weights from their fingers but injuries are rife, including friction burns and dislocated joints. There’s even a risk of toppling off their seats completely so as an added precaution, officials called Auffänger are on standby, ready to catch them before they hit the ground.
WHERE: Sydney, Australia
Whether it’s wise to bet on a crab after having a drink or two is up for debate, but this pub competition is certainly lots of fun. It’s easy to play and only requires a bucket of hermit crabs, a sheet of numbered tickets and a couple of dollars. The crabs are placed in the center of a circular platform and the rules are pretty simple. No banging on the table, blowing to create a tailwind or doing anything else to gain an unfair advantage. Punters place their bets by numbering their favorite crab and the first crustacean to reach the edge wins.
INSIDER TIPThe most famous of these races take place at the eclectic Friend In Hand Hotel in Glebe, on the last Wednesday of every month.
Royal Shrovetide Football Match
WHERE: Ashbourne, England
The annual Royal Shrovetide Football Match takes place over two days, Shrove Tuesday and Ash Wednesday. Hundreds of players crush together in a kind of giant group hug waiting for the ball (a hand-sewn leather ball filled with cork) to be “turned up” (thrown into the fray in non-player parlance). Teams then madly undulate and push against the opposing team to get the ball into their respective goals, set three miles apart.
The match has been held every year since 1667 and is believed to be the oldest form of football in the world. The rules are minimal: It can’t be played in churchyards, murder is forbidden, and in keeping with the times, the ball can’t be transported by car. Private property should be respected, but the local townsfolk close their businesses for two days and board up their windows, just in case.
World Russian Egg Roulette Championship
WHERE: Swaton, England
One egg carton, six eggs, five hard-boiled and one not. Two competitors take turns to smash the eggs against their foreheads and whoever breaks the raw one first loses. Is this really a sport, you might ask? Absolutely, complete with preliminary heats and as tense as any Olympic event. It is held as part of Swaton Vintage Day, held every June since 1994.
Wife Carrying World Championship
WHERE: Sonkajärvi, Finland
In this ultimate marital obstacle race, a man must carry his spouse (or someone else’s, as long as she’s older than 17 and weighs at least 108 pounds) over a 276-yard long sand track. The preferred method of carrying is with the wife face down over the man’s back, with her legs around his neck. The man then has to climb over hurdles like enormous logs and wade through water, before running to the finish line. The sport comes from a 19th-century legend about one Herkko Rosvo-Ronkainen. The story goes that he and his gang of thieves raided villages looking for things to steal. There are three slightly different versions of the myth but in all of them, Rosvo-Ronkainen’s crew either carried heavy weights over their shoulders in preparation for thieving, or the women they stole.
WHERE: Merida, Mexico
In Pok ta’Pok, players have to get a heavy rubber ball through a stone hoop that can sit as high as 20 feet up a wall, using only their elbows, hips, and knees. The side that scores the most goals wins. At least these days they do. When Pok ta’Pok was first played thousands of years ago, the winner was sacrificed. Originally this sport was used to settle arguments between warring parties and Mayan nobility and dying was considered an honor.
Greasy Pole Competition
WHERE: Valletta, Malta
Every August, in the greasy pole competition held in the Maltese town of St. Julian, brave young men compete to grab a flag attached to the end of a 50-foot long pole that’s been slathered with four gallons of lard. As if that isn’t hard enough, the gostra, as the pole is known, is set on an angle. The tradition dates back 200 years and is part of the annual feast of St. Julian the Hospitaller, the town’s patron saint. Each of the three flags set on the pole has a special meaning. The blue and white one represents St. Mary—that’s Mary Magdalene—the yellow and white cloth is for the Vatican while the black, yellow and red bands of the third flag make up the Belgian tricolor. That’s because St. Julian is through to have been born in a town called Ath, in Belgium, in 7 A.D.
WHERE: Scottish Highlands, Scotland
The Scots take playing with their food to extremes when men (and women) in kilts stand on an overturned whisky barrel and see who can throw the nation’s iconic food item the furthest. Traditional haggis consists of heart, liver, and lungs (collectively known as pluck) mixed with oatmeal, onions, suet, and spices. That’s all stuffed into a casing made from an animal’s stomach (thankfully a cleaned one) and cooked until firm. Back in the 17th-century, women used to throw haggis to their husbands working in the peat bogs. Then in 1977, a man called Robin Dunseath called for the ancient sport of haggis hurling to be revived at the annual Gathering of the Clans in Edinburgh. Even after he revealed it was a hoax in 2004, revealing there was no such tradition, haggis hurling continued to be a fixture on the Scottish sporting scene.
Running of the Wieners
WHERE: Cincinnati, USA
Every year in Cincinnati, 100 dachshunds dressed as hot dogs (weiners, get it?) race over very short distances. It’s held as a precursor to the annual Oktoberfest weekend. There are ten heats in all, each 75 feet long. Despite their short legs, the dogs take around five seconds to complete each one. Heat winners compete in a final round, and the winner takes all. Mustard optional.