Though many residents may not be aware, Ethiopia is safeguarding one of the world’s most traditional sports, Gena. UNESCO, a branch of the UN that preserves the world’s cultural heritage, defines a traditional sports game as one that preserves intangible cultural heritage.
By preserving these traditions, athletes enhance peace by promoting intercultural dialogue. In other words, participating in traditional sports like Gena helps make the world a more diverse and tolerant place.
Most popular international sports leagues that are enjoyed around the world don’t harken back to a specific culture. For example, golf is played at the international level where competitors can come from any nation in the world. And online golf betting odds will cover golf events and players from all corners of the globe.
Other sports, such as cricket and football, are incredibly popular but tend to be featured in domestic leagues, such as the Ethiopian Premier League. These highlight global themes in local contexts, but don’t showcase a specifically Ethiopian sport like Gena.
In the long run, preserving these traditions is also preserving the world’s heritage — and it’s not just Ethiopians that continue their longstanding traditions related to sporting competitions. Across the world, there are unique sports that won’t be found beyond a particular region. Here are five of the most interesting traditional sports around the world:
Also known as ‘Kali’ or ‘Escrima’, this form of martial art is unique to the Philippines. Unlike other forms of martial arts, Arnis involves weapons, including sticks, blades, knives, and open-hand techniques (which replace weapons).
The martial art dates back to the years of traditional tribal structure in the country and was passed down via oral tradition for centuries. The most common practitioners were of a lower class, which meant they couldn’t read or write down their techniques. Today, Arnis remains part of an oral tradition.
Oil Wrestling, Turkey
Also known as grease wrestling, this traditional sport involves wrestling with oil covering the body. This makes it harder to wrestle an opponent to the ground, which requires wrestlers to use superior strength and techniques to win.
Oil wrestling isn’t strictly unique to Turkey. In fact, the sport dates back almost five thousand years, when it was practiced across Europe, Asia, and the Middle East as part of the Ottoman Empire. Today, annual competitions are held throughout Turkey, as well as in other parts of the Balkans.
Today, many think of tightrope walking as part of a larger entertainment event, such as the Cirque de Soleil. However, tightrope walking is a traditional sport known as Jultagi, which originated in Korea sometime in the Middle Ages.
There are over 40 different techniques used to navigate the tightrope, including jumping, sitting, and reverse walking. Jultagi is practiced on most major holidays when it’s used as a type of theatre to tell a story to audiences.
Capoeira is one of the youngest traditional sports on this list. It combines dance, music, chanting, and martial arts. Two competitors (or more) face one another and engage in a ‘fight’, which is often contactless and looks more like dancing. However, some early forms of the sport involved blades to enhance the sense of danger and performance.
Capoeira has its roots in West and West-Central Africa. Groups brought traditional practices over to Brazil, then reworked them as they were able to. Still, the practice was banned until the early 1900s. Today, the sport can be practiced in groups around the world.
Charrería is a traditional sport that involves horse riding. Charrería resembles a rodeo but is actually more closely related to early husbandry practices in Mexico which were brought over by Spanish colonists. From there, remote outposts developed their own unique routines with their horses.
Today, some charrería groups have been active for five generations. These groups travel around the country to compete in ten charrería events, which involve both cattle and horses. Much of the modern shows are considered ‘living history’, as they depict the lifestyle of ranchers from the past.