Once the preserve of amateurs to meet up, settle scores and channel their competitive spirit and aggression into something entertaining, sports have evolved into one of the biggest industries in the world – set to reach $73.5 billion by 2019, according to Forbes. Those who play it are amongst the richest and most adored people to walk the earth, mainly down to their ability to hit hard, run fast or throw a ball into a net.
Still, the world is dominated by just a handful of major sports, with each country having its favourites that hoover up all the sporting talent from that nation’s pool of willing athletes. But there is an alternative – loads of them as it happens. Just head slightly off the beaten track, take a little hop, skip and jump into left field and there is a whole world of different sports. Admittedly, none of them are going to net you that multi-million sponsorship deal from Nike, and some are decidedly odd, but they are still a good way to get fit, meet some people, and could be that brand new hobby you’ve been searching for. Another thing, it would be a hell of a lot easier to rise to the top in these sports than it will in the more recognized ones.
Here we explore some of the world’s lesser known sports, that for one reason or another have remained below the radar. Broadly speaking, you can place these alternative sports into three categories: First are modern-day developments of more traditional sports, with some rule changes or the addition of modern tools or equipment. The next group are the ones with a history and heritage every bit as long and rich as the established sports, if not more so. In some cases they may well have been the root from which the more familiar 21st century incarnations emerged. The final bunch are… well the final bunch are just plain bizarre. Let’s take a look!
Invented in the 1920’s by a Finnish Olympic athlete, Lauri Tahko Pihkala, Pesäpallo is a combination of several bat and ball sports but is most similar to baseball. In fact Pesäpallo – the national sport of Finland – is often referred to as Finnish baseball. The biggest difference between the two is that unlike in baseball, the ball in Pesäpallo is pitched vertically, giving a lot more offensive options. Defining what makes a sport mainstream is always difficult and incredibly subjective, but one thing that pushes Pesäpallo into the domain of mainstream sport is the fact that many bookmakers, even in countries where the vast majority of people haven’t even heard of it, offer several bets on the sport. Whether that would eventually result in raised awareness in the sport is anyone’s guess.
2. Chess Boxing
You don’t need to be a genius to work out that this is a mixture of chess and boxing. It may take a bit more brainpower to work out why you’d pair them in the first place however. The idea came from a comic book – Froid Équateur, written by Enki Bilal and began in 2003. A bout consists of eleven alternate 3 minute rounds of boxing and chess, with the winner coming by way of knockout or checkmate. Rising in popularity in the last few years, the unlikely sport now has many professional bodies, including the World Chess Boxing Association.
Also known as underwater hockey, this sport is played all over the world, but is particularly popular in the United Kingdom. It also has its own governing body, the World Underwater Federation. Developed in 1954 as something for the Southsea Diving Club members to do during the winter months, it involves teams pushing a puck across the bottom of a swimming pool. Like all good sports, octopush has had its fair share of disputes, with rival governing bodies being set up, and alternative methods of pushing the puck advocated by different countries.
4. Bike Polo
Polo seems to be a sport where the original horse is quite expendable. The mode of transport the player uses differs widely from the traditional equine choice, with elephants, camels, canoes, golf carts and even Segways all being used. Bike polo is probably the most traditional and popular of the bunch, and can trace its history back to 1891. Today bike or cycle polo is played all over the world, where players compete for domestic, continental and world championships.
Fist ball is rarely included in the answer to the question “What did the Romans ever do for us?” but it certainly could be. They invented this sport which is now played by teams all over the world who compete every 4 years for the Fistball World Cup. The next European Championship is coming up this August in Grieskirchen, Austria. Though it is similar to volleyball, it differs in several aspects including the fact the ball can bounce once, the playing area is a lot larger, and as the name implies, a player must use his or her fist to strike the ball.
Originating from Argentina, this may look like a hybrid of basketball and polo, but it dates back as far as the early 17th century. It involves players on horseback attempting to put a ball through a netted ring atop a 240cm high pole. The sport has been banned several times, due to its violent nature, but thankfully the biggest development in its history was the decision to use a ball instead of a live duck that was a feature of its early incarnations.
It wasn’t only ducks that fell fowl of our love of team sports. Buzkashi, originating from and still very popular in Central Asia, involves men on horseback attempting to drag the carcass of a goat into a goal. Early games could last for days, though the modern version, possibly in an attempt to secure those all-important TV rights, is played in a set amount of time.
4. Sepak Takraw
Sepak Takraw is one of the most exhilarating and incredible sports to watch – not just on this list, but anywhere. Hailing from Southeast Asia and dating back to the 15th century, Sepak Takraw is similar to volleyball, but players have to use their feet. Characterised by its amazing feats of athleticism, the sport has grown in popularity as people all over the globe are able to see for themselves the gravity-defying moves.
1. Wife Carrying
One sport where the aid of a bicycle, camel or elephant would come in handy is one where all of these are strictly forbidden. Originating in Finland, wife carrying involves a male competitor carrying a female (she doesn’t have to be betrothed to the man, by the way, but we suppose that was the case in the past) over a specially designed obstacle track. Various different techniques are preferred, and though it would at first appear to be an advantage to have a lightweight “wife”, the prize of the “wife’s” weight in beer does make that something of a grey area.
The most gentle and certainly the most melodious on the list is this Thai sport. Two competitors each place their prize bird in a cage on a pole, while judges decide which feathered performer wins over a predetermined period of time, based on the number, variety and beauty of their songs.
3. Worm Charming
We can’t help but think that joining this with the last one would produce a whole new sport, but for the moment they remain separate. Worm charming – a profession in some parts of the world, began life as a competitive sport in the 1970s at, of all places, Willaston County Primary School’s annual fete. It wasn’t long before more and more people wanted a piece of the action and the World Worm Charming Championships were born in 1980, the Cheshire school’s deputy headmaster not only organising the event but also writing the official rulebook for the sport. The sport has one of the youngest world champions in Sophie Smith, who managed to charm a staggering 567 worms to the surface in the 2009 world championship.
Looking at these, the variety of sports and competitions we’ve come up with to keep ourselves entertained is fascinating. Mainstream sports like baseball, basketball and football are just the tip of the iceberg. If you’re looking to take part in competitive group and solitary challenges, there’s a whole range of odd and not-so-odd sports to choose from.
Finnish Baseball by www.wsj.com
Chess Boxing by www.echecspourtous.com
Buzkashi by changwlee.com
Wife Carrying by www.skiernews.com
Alister de la Rose
An avid sports fan, I am also fascinated by history and love to learn as much as I can about the roots of all things that interest me. Life is all about learning and I will continue digging deep into the history of everything that I am passionate about!