25 unique sports from around the world
Man’s fascination with competitive sports goes back to at least Ancient Sumer, where depictions of wrestling competitions and foot races have been found at sites dating to 3000 B.C. Civilization first embraced sport not simply to entertain the idle populace, which it certainly did, but, more importantly, to instill martial prowess and teamwork in the young men who would form the local militia and national military. That’s why the oldest recorded sports are wrestling, racing, archery, and other feats of physical and mental fortitude that would fit perfectly on a battlefield.
Much has changed, of course. Women are now as involved with organized sports as men are, inviting a whole new group of people to compete and welcoming a female perspective on sports. And with professionally trained armies, there’s no longer any need to ready young men and women for military service through organized sports.
Now that sports serve primarily to entertain spectators, the sporting world has evolved and blossomed into a massive universe of interesting games. Never in human history have so many sports been followed, played, and managed by so many people. While physical prowess and mental fortitude still play an important role in sports, competitions also now require skill, specialized training, creativity, and cunning. Unshackled from military requirements, the wide world of sports even incorporates a whole new fundamental element of competition: fun.
To see just a sample of all the wild and wonderful sports out there, Stacker compiled a list of 25 unique sports from around the world using internet research, including sports, travel, and culture sites, and websites of the sports’ governing bodies. These sports may fly under the radar for most Americans, but after learning about the excitement of yukigassen or the intensity of kabaddi, they won’t remain unknown for much longer.
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The national sport of Bangladesh and popular throughout South Asia since the 20th century, kabaddi is a contact team sport played by men and women. Teams attempt to have their offensive player, the “raider,” infiltrate the opponent’s defensive side and tag out as many opponents as possible before returning safely to their side. Over 40 nations belong to the governing body and field teams, including the United States, where men’s and women’s national teams compete on the Americas circuit.
Think snowball fights are a spontaneous recess activity? Think again. Born in Japan in 1989, yukigassen combines dodgeball with snowball-fighting. Seven-person teams compete with 90 pre-made snowballs each, trying to eject opposing players by hitting them with snowballs. Once the snowballs are gone, the team with the most players remaining wins.
Do you love volleyball but wish it were harder? Then sepak takraw is the sport for you. Sepak takraw is like volleyball...but played with your feet. Originating in Thailand about 200 years ago, sepak takraw has grown into a fiercely competitive sport that rivals the popularity of soccer in Malaysia, Thailand, and Indonesia.
An Italian precursor to American football and rugby, calcio storico (a.k.a., calcio fiorentino) pits 27 bare-chested players per side against each other on a rectangular field with goal nets on both ends. Thought to have begun with the Roman sport of harpastum, full-contact calcio allows head-butting, punching, elbowing, and choking. After centuries of declining interest post-Renaissance, calcio made a comeback in the 1930s.
Central Asia’s version of polo, especially popular in Afghanistan, four to five horsemen on each squad try to carry a goat or calf carcass into the opposing team’s “Circle of Justice.” Sounds easy enough? Beware: Unsanctioned games can last days and brutal head injuries are common.
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In 1908, water polo enthusiasts in Split, Croatia, frustrated in their search for deep enough water to play their favorite game, came up with this beach game instead. Five players stand in a circle and swat around an unpeeled tennis ball, trying to keep it from touching the water. The biggest risk to athletes? A sunburn.
Traditional wrestling is popular throughout West Africa, but the Senegalese version is the only one that allows blows to the head, which brings it closer to modern mixed martial arts than old-school grappling. A national sport in Senegal, the sport has experienced a huge resurgence in popularity with modern champions becoming national celebrities.
Who hasn’t stood astride a large puddle or middling stream and thought they could jump over it only to fail miserably? Probably could have made it with the help of a pole, huh? With fierljeppen (“far leaping”), that’s exactly what you get: the pole vault combined with your childhood love of jumping over (sometimes into) puddles. Born as a practical way to navigate the swampy canal-lands of Friesland in the Netherlands, competitors pole vault a canal or stream and attempt to climb atop the pole before jumping as far as possible onto the other bank.
This list’s youngest sport, underwater torpedo was developed by two retired Marine combat water-safety swimmers in 2017. Two teams of five play at the bottom of a deep pool in a form of underwater football. Players try to move a 10-inch “torpedo” into nets anchored to the bottom of each team’s defensive end. Tackling, holding, pulling, and wrestling are all permitted, as long as players and the torpedo remain submerged, but strikes like kicks and punches are not.
Long before the ghastly snowmobile, getting around Norway required a pair of skis. It likely didn’t take long for Norwegians to figure out they could move much faster if their working dogs or horses pulled them. Thus, skijoring was born. No longer strictly a mode of transportation, skijøring is now a competitive sport where skiers are pulled behind a horse, dog, or motorized vehicle down a snowy course. The fastest time wins. Several mountain communities in America and Canada host equestrian-based competitions with events in Steamboat Springs and Leadville, Colorado, among North America’s oldest.
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