World No­mad Games to be­gin next month

The Myanmar Times - - Sport -

IN a melee of hooves and hands, a scrum of horserid­ers on the plains of Cen­tral Asia wres­tle to get con­trol of the ball – or in this case the car­cass of a freshly slaugh­tered goat. Af­ter sev­eral min­utes of shrieks and equine snorts, a rider from exSoviet Kyr­gyzs­tan’s na­tional team emerges clutch­ing the car­cass, trig­ger­ing a fran­tic pur­suit.

The game – called kok-boru (gray wolf) in Kyr­gyzs­tan and buzkashi (goat grab­bing) in Afghanistan – is a warm-up for the sec­ond edi­tion of the World No­mad Games to be held in Cholpon-Ata in Septem­ber.

Or­gan­is­ers say the games – first staged by im­pov­er­ished Kyr­gyzs­tan in 2014 – are aimed at boost­ing no­madic tra­di­tions threat­ened by glob­al­i­sa­tion and should draw com­peti­tors from some 40 coun­tries this year.

Events in­clude age-old ver­sions of wrestling, hunt­ing and horse rac­ing – and of course the eye-catch­ing kok-boru.

“Some might say this is a cruel type of sport, but for us, it is some­thing na­tional, some­thing that is ours,” Kyr­gyz player Temir Moldokulov, 31, said of the sport, likened by some to an ul­tra-vi­o­lent ver­sion of polo.

“At the games we will be rep­re­sent­ing not just our coun­try, but our an­ces­tors.”

Pre­serv­ing no­madic cul­ture

For a poor coun­try like Kyr­gyzs­tan that has faced two rev­o­lu­tions and os­cil­lated be­tween democ­racy and au­thor­i­tar­i­an­ism in its 25 years of in­de­pen­dence, the No­mad Games have be­come a point of na­tional pride.

This time round the num­ber of na­tions send­ing com­peti­tors for the two-week event be­gin­ning Septem­ber 3 on the shores of Lake Issyk-Kul has nearly dou­bled since the first games two years ago.

The state has al­ready re­leased spe­cial edi­tion coins and stamps to com­mem­o­rate the games, whose logo is be­ing worn on cus­tom­made broaches by state tele­vi­sion pre­sen­ters.

Or­gan­is­ers cite a mis­sion to “re­vive and pre­serve the cul­ture, iden­tity and ways of life of no­madic peo­ples in the era of glob­al­i­sa­tion” but many have aired con­cerns about cost over­runs.

Re­cently the cash-strapped gov­ern­ment ad­mit­ted that the cost of re­build­ing the sta­dium where many events will take place had bal­looned from roughly US$7 mil­lion at the start of the year to over $16 mil­lion, for in­stance.

Nur­din Sul­tam­bayev, who heads the World No­mad Games 2016 sec­re­tariat, says the event is part of a “long jour­ney” and that the gov­ern­ment will claw back its in­vest­ment in fu­ture tourism rev­enues.

“This is a brand that can take our coun­try for­ward,” Sul­tam­bayev told AFP, not­ing some ex­penses would be met by spon­sors in­clud­ing Rus­sian en­ergy firm Gazprom, while de­clin­ing to state the games’ to­tal cost.

A com­pelling spec­ta­cle

The games will not stay in Kyr­gyzs­tan for­ever – Turkey is to host the 2018 ver­sion – but tra­di­tion­al­ists are op­ti­mistic that the buzz they cre­ate can help tweak sport­ing tastes in the coun­try.

Over­look­ing a mixed male-and-fe­male train­ing ses­sion for Kyr­gyzs­tan’s na­tional team of mas-wrestling – a one-on-one stick-pulling com­pe­ti­tion whose ori­gins can be traced to Rus­sia’s Tur­kic-speak­ing Yaku­tia prov­ince – coach Talaibek Jany­bayev says sports such as his can be “uni­fy­ing”.

“This is not box­ing or wrestling. No one is beat­ing any­one up,” says Jany­bayev.

“There is just a 50-cen­time­tre stick and sim­ple com­pe­ti­tion – who is stronger? What’s more, it is a very eco­nom­i­cal form of sport to de­velop.”

Watched up close in a sweaty gym in the cap­i­tal Bishkek, a mas-wrestling duel – full of grunts and of­ten last­ing less than a minute – is a com­pelling spec­ta­cle.

But when the games be­gin it will likely be over­shad­owed by sports like er en­ish – wrestling on horse­back – and kok-boru polo, cheered on by lo­cals as well as cu­ri­ous for­eign tourists, among them Hol­ly­wood ac­tion man Steven Seagal.

“The com­pe­ti­tion last time was weaker,” says Moldokulov, who took part in the 2014 kok-boru tour­na­ment that saw Kyr­gyzs­tan’s na­tional side de­feat its own re­serve team in the fi­nal.

“Ta­jik­istan, China ... These were fairly com­pet­i­tive teams,” he said.

Photo: AFP

The World No­mad Games, first hosted in 2014 by Kyr­gyzs­tan, should draw com­peti­tors from 40 coun­tries this year.

In kok-boru, horse rid­ers battle for possession of a freshly slaugh­tered goat.

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