A good sport should be two things: inexcusably dangerous and, ultimately, completely pointless.
American sports feature way too many pads and helmets and, you know, rules, so we've scoured the globe for the most awesome-and often terrifying-alternatives.
Where: A small corner of the British Isles that time and genetics forgot.
What is it?
It involves up to 20 competitors chasing a block of cheese down a hill. No, really.
The competitors climb up to the top of the almost-impossibly steep Cooper's Hill and chase a large not-quite-round wheel of double Gloucester cheese down to the bottom. The winner is the first person over the line at the bottom of the slope, but theoretically, the winner is supposed to be the person who catches the cheese. The cheese, which is given a one-second head start, reaches speeds in excess of 70 miles an hour, so unless a competitor is the T-1000, or has managed to smuggle a motorcycle to the top of the hill, it's not gonna happen.
Terrible injuries, however, are common.
No one quite knows when the game started, but it is at least 200 years old, though some say it goes back further and was part of a pagan healing ritual. Apparently to pagans, healing rituals meant hurting yourself really badly.
After the final race, candy is thrown down the hill for a children' 'scramble.' This has been attacked by children' charities as being highly dangerous, but has been praised by almost everyone else as being very funny.
What is it?
An Irish sport which appears to be a hybrid of field hockey, soccer, football and unremitting, pants-wetting terror.
The game is played with axe-like sticks called hurleys or "camÃÂ¡ns" and a small, hard ball. Two teams, each with 15 Irishmen of questionable mental stability attempt to score goals by smacking the ball as hard as possible, at head height and at terrifying speeds.
Hurling' origins are based on some kind of energetic outdoor activity participated in by ancient Gaels that most people refer to as 'warfare.' When the Irish began to migrate overseas, they attempted to set up hurling leagues in their adopted countries, but everyone else was too frightened and/or mentally stable to play.
Although a well-hit ball can travel at speeds of almost 100 miles per hour, hurling players wear no protective gear. Players can choose to wear a helmet, but many choose not to, figuring if God had wanted men to wear helmets, he wouldn't have given them those ball-deflecting skulls.
What is it?
The "wife-carrying" thing isn't a metaphor. A gentleman heaves his wife onto his back and races through a special obstacle course, perhaps while she berates him the whole way about each little mistake.
The rules say the "wife" that gets carried can be your own, or a friend', or pretty much anyone'. The competitors dash down a 250-meter track, with two jumps and a water trap. A dropped wife incurs a 15-second penalty for the team and, presumably, dog-turd casserole for a week.
The sport originated years ago as a joke in Finland. We're not sure if this is a damning indictment of Finnish sexual equality or Finnish humor.
Cross-dressing NBA star Dennis Rodman competed in 2005, in an attempt to suck in the last escaping molecules of athletic fame available to him.
Where: Central Asia, principally Afghanistan and Kyrgyzstan.
What is it?
The national sport of Afghanistan, Turkmenistan and other unpronounceable Central Asian nations, it involves a large amount of ululating Arabs tearing around a large area on horseback, trying to wrestle the carcass of a goat from each other in an apparent effort to reaffirm every negative stereotype the world has about them.
The two mounted teams try to throw the dead goat over a goal line or into a tub. This elicits a great deal of enthusiasm, so we assume it constitutes scoring a point. Play is rough, and competitors often wear protective clothing to protect themselves from other riders' boots, whips and probably stray bullets.
We have no idea. Obviously when the good people of Central Asia started this game, they were having too much fun to write anything down for future posterity.
Buzkashi games can go on for several days, which says as much about the stamina of the players as it does about the total lack of any alternate form of entertainment in the regions the sport is played.
What is it?
This mishmash of rugby and soccer has been played in one spot at an exclusive English private school ... for more than 300 years. It happens on the same strip of land with a long, slightly curved wall down one side and often devolves into a multi-limbed pile of shrieking schoolboys.
Two teams try to get the ball into a scoring zone, then kick it against a target (a garden door for one team and a tree for the other). Sounds simple, until you realize that the method of actually moving the ball into position involves all the players on both teams piling up along the wall and slowly inching the ball upfield, to the extreme discomfort of any players buried in the pile who'll spend 30 minutes having their faces slowly scraped along the mortar.
Every now and again, the ball pops free and someone boots it up field, which precipitates a crazed scramble to retrieve the ball, whereupon the whole process starts again.
The first recorded incidence of the game being played was in 1766, though the most important game of the year is the St. Andrews Day game, first played in 1844. We like to pretend that it began to give the English social elite something to do when they became bored of shooting the working class or going to war against a bunch of Pacific Islanders armed with sticks.
If you like wild games with lots of scoring, well, too bad. The last goal was scored in 1909. No kidding.
Where: The Basque region of Spain and France.
What is it?
A game played in an open-walled arena where a rock-hard ball is hurled against the wall at speeds in excess of 180 miles an hour. Jai-Alai is a game the Basque call 'the fastest sport on Earth' because they apparently have never heard of Formula One.
The game is played like squash, but a version of squash that could only have been dreamt up by sun-damaged Spaniards. Players sling the ball at a wall using a specially designed wicker cesta basket with a curved glove attached, approximately 25-inches long. On the rebound, a player from the opposing team catches the ball in his scooped racquet before flinging it back at the wall.
If the ball is dropped, missed or flung out of bounds, or if a player drops his bat and squeals in terror when the ball flashes past his head, then a point is conceded.
The first recorded history of Jai-Alai was the building of an indoor arena in 1798 in Spain, and the game spread to Spain' Central-American and Caribbean colonies throughout the 1800s. It was briefly popular in some parts of the USA in the '70s, but it' popularity has waned as athletes found other activities more rewarding than trying to dodge a ball moving fast enough to castrate them on impact.
A Jai-Alai ball (called a Pelota) can only be used for about 15 minutes before the repeated impacts have torn the skin off it.
What is it?
Pretty much what the name implies. It' a hybrid sport combining chess and boxing, one that the organizers claim is the ultimate test of brains and brawn. Competitors play a round of chess and then box the living crap out of each other.
The game is split into 11 four-minute alternating rounds of chess and boxing, starting and ending with the chess. At the end of the chess round, the board is removed from the boxing ring and the competitors then beat the piss out of each other for a further four minutes. Then the board is replaced and the thinking caps come back out. Winning comes either from a checkmate or a knockout.
You immediately see the flaw in the rules: A good boxer can simply sleepwalk through the opening chess round, then beat his opponent unconscious once the boxing starts. In other words, it's possible to win without knowing anything at all about chess.
The game in it's current format came from the mind of Serbian cartoonist Enki Bilal, who penned a graphic novel featuring the game in 1992, but purists argue that the game was originally conceived in the 1991 Finnish film Uuno Turhapuro, herra Helsingin herra, in which a man makes chess moves over a hands-free telephone headset while simultaneously beating the shit out of another man. This makes one wonder why they don't do actual chess boxing that way, but who are we to tell them how to do their jobs.
Chess boxing was the inspiration for The Wu-Tang Clan song "Da Mystery of Chessboxin'" from their debut album, a fact made very evident by the lyric "Steamrollin niggaz like a 18-wheeler/with the drunk driver drivin, there's no survivin'."
Where: A putrid bog in Wales.
What is it?
A bizarre aquatic race whereby someone in full wetsuit and snorkel pedals an expensive mountain bike into a filthy bog just outside the small Welsh town of Llanwrtyd Wells (pronounced like the sound of a slop bucket hitting the floor) for reasons science isn't fully equipped to explain.
Entrants are timed as they cycle two lengths of the Waen Rhydd bog, which is 6-feet deep and 45-feet long, on a bicycle with a frame filled with lead. Toppling off your bike isn't penalized, and neither is vomiting from the fetid stench.
The sport draws competitors to Llanwrytd Wells from all over the world, but we think that may be because the Welsh citizenry mistakenly think every traveler with a chesty cough is asking directions to the town.
The sport began in 2000 and was developed from the similar, non-bike-related Bog Snorkelling Championships. Both were the brainchild of a local pub landlord, who dreamt it up after drinking a lot of booze.
As well as hosting the Annual Bog Snorkelling Championships and the Mountain Bike Bog Snorkelling Championships, there is also a Triathlon Bog Snorkelling Championships, the latest in the town's attempt to milk the bog snorkelling thing for all it' worth.
What is it?
An Indian team game, Kabaddi calls itself a cross between tag and wrestling. Some wrestling fans will call this false advertising, because it doesn't feature anyone receiving the People's Elbow nor do female teams compete in a bra and panties match. Though it does feature lots of sweating men in underwear, so there are some similarities.
Two teams of 12 (seven playing, five in reserve) face each other on a court just over half the size of a basketball court. One team sends a raider into the opponents territory, who must not draw breath whilst he is there (laws dictate the raider must constantly chant 'Kabaddi,' thus eliminating any "hey, I saw you breathe!", "No, my mouth is closed!", "You breathed through your nose, I saw you!" arguments).
The raider' job is to 'tag' his opponents and get out without being caught. Tagged opponents are out, but if the raider is wrestled to the ground until he draws breath, then he is out the game. Traditional garb for teams is socks and boxer shorts, or sometimes briefs.
No one quite knows when Kabaddi started, though Indians claim they have concrete evidence the game was played 4,000 years ago, presumably in the form of primitive drawings of men chasing each other in their underpants.
In 1975, a renowned Kabaddi player toured Japan to introduce the sport, and the Japanese, having decided the sport is just ridiculous enough for their culture, have been playing ever since.
What is it?
Two soccer matches are held every year at the beginning of Lent in Ashbourne, with teams consisting of almost every single man, woman and child in the village--and some tourists--all playing at the same time.
Like all the best sports, Royal Shrovetide Football doesn't concern itself with rules ÃÂÃÂ¢ÃÂ¢'ÃÂ¬" indeed, the only official regulation seems to be "no murder." The game begins at 2 p.m., when a local dignitary tosses a ball into a swirling mass of hundreds of terrifyingly large men and screaming women and children. The mobs then try and move the ball toward their goal areas. Essentially, it' a rolling, 8-hour fist fight between the Up'Ards and Down'Ards (people born north or south of the town river).
The 'pitch' is the entire town and the goal posts are the sites of old mills, three miles apart and a goal is scored by someone banging the ball against a post three times. Though called football, the ball can be kicked or thrown, and possession can, and does, change hands by the virtue of simple, honest violence.
Because a fire destroyed the records in the 1890s, no one knows when the sport began, though some insist it was played as early as the 1300s, and that in the original games the ball was a severed head, tossed to the baying crowd following a public execution.
Men from the Ashbourne Regiment played the game in the trenches of World War I until other regiments complained that the violence was too unsettling.
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