Throughout history, people have loved sports. There are plenty of sports that caught on easily and are still with us today. Other sports were a bit more unusual. Some were too dangerous, some too cruel and others just didn’t draw enough fans to stand the test of time. We’ve put together a list of 15 of the most unusual sports throughout history.
1. Camel wrestling. More than 2,000 years ago, the sport of camel wrestling emerged as an organized fight between two male camels. While camels aren’t, by nature, aggressive toward each other, fight organizers parade an attractive female camel out before two males to try and goad them into a battle.
The somewhat comedic matches last about 10 minutes. If a camel falls down during the fight, the other camel is declared the winner. If one camel flees the arena, the other one wins. Many times, the camel owners also fight, which always pleases the crowd.
2. Oil wrestling. Dating back to around 1065, Turkish oil wrestling is a sport where men wear slick, leather pants (historically made from buffalo hide) and douse themselves with olive oil —lots of olive oil. Then, they wrestle for 40 minutes until one of them pins the other — or injures him to the point that he can’t continue the fight.
3. Pitz. Also referred to as the Mayan or Mesoamerican ballgame, the sport of pitz is a game that was played by ancient Mesoamericans in 1400 B.C. Two teams of five players used a natural latex ball that weighed anywhere between nine and 20 pounds. They would keep the ball in play by hitting it with their hips or any other body part except their hands. The goal was to bounce the ball through hoops that were attached to the stone court where the game was being played.
4. Pato. The early 1600s saw the emergence of a game called pato (Spanish for duck). Two teams with four players each ride on horseback during the game. A very unlucky, live duck is placed in a small basket with handles around it. Then, the duck is tossed, by the handles, between players who aim to score by throwing it in a net placed at the end of the field.
Pato was a rather violent game. It was seldom played without serious injuries to the horses, riders — and always the poor duck being used as a ball. The game was played for hundreds of years before it was outlawed. Then, it was reinvented to be played with an actual ball instead of a duck.
5. Buzkashi. A game that originated in Afghanistan, sometime around the 10th century, Buzkashi is another game that was played on horseback. In this game, two teams of around 10 riders each compete to steal or keep possession of a dead, headless goat or calf.
Buzkashi was thought to have originated when nomadic tribes would gallop along to steal game from a rival group. Apparently, this kind of thievery was a common practice. Eventually, the tribes decided to have a sense of humor about it and made a game of getting their dinner back.
6. Badger baiting. Add this one to the list of mean-spirited sports. Badger baiting was popular among drunken men in the early 1800s. Basically, the sport would involve a badger and a dog. The dog would be released into a badger’s den. Once the dog could manage to latch onto a badger, the dog’s owner would pull the dog by its hind legs, with the badger still in its teeth. The dog and badger would then be separated and then allowed to go at each other again. Bets were placed on various aspects of the game. Dogs and badgers were badly hurt in these matches. Fortunately, the blood sport was outlawed in 1835.
7. Fox tossing. In the 17th century, fox tossing was a popular sport for aristocrats and higher-class folks in Europe. Participants would toss small animals high up into the air with slings fashioned into a type of catapult. Foxes were the most common animals to be slung. However, rabbits, wild cats, badgers and other varmints were also used. Players, in teams, would try to demonstrate strength by tossing the animals high. The team with the highest toss would win. The highest recorded toss was 7.5 meters (close to 25 feet). Needless to say, the animals rarely made it through a game alive. Fox tossing was a brutal blood sport that was eventually outlawed. Thank goodness!
8. Horseback boxing. In the early 1900s, a welterweight boxer by the name of Bobby Dobbs and his trainer, Joe Edwards, invented the sport of boxing on horseback. The game took place in a ring that was measured out in a dirt lot. Overall, the sport was similar to regular boxing — as far as the rules went. There were timed rounds and each boxer fought with 4-ounce gloves. When a fighter was knocked off his horse and couldn’t get back on within 10 seconds, he was deemed the loser. The sport was pretty popular when it was first introduced. But, it didn’t last long. Apparently, it’s difficult to hold the horse reins while wearing boxing gloves and trying to knock someone out.
9. Bone throwing. The Vikings brought us so many colorful games. Bone throwing just happens to be one of the most unusual. The game, known to the Vikings as hnutukast, was played after a meal when there were plenty of bones around. Each player would pick a bone and throw it at another player — hoping to injure him. The player would throw a bone back with the same intent until only one man was left standing. At times, the game would end in death.
10. Ice tennis. Some tennis clubs in New York got together in the winter of 1912 and purposely flooded their outdoor tennis courts with water. They waited until it froze, had players put on ice skates and played tennis. The sport was fairly popular in the winter but seemed to fizzle out in the 1940s.
11. Octopus wrestling. No, we’re not making these up. Around 1940, on the west coast of the United States, divers interested in wrestling an eight-legged beast would plunge down 30 to 50 feet in the ocean seeking giant 50-pound octopuses in caves and wrestle them to the shore. The sport was difficult because the octopuses would grip the caves with their suction cup-like arms. The wrestled octopuses were weighed and players were awarded points based on the weight of the defeated octopus. Octopus wrestling was popular through the 1960s and was even a televised sport at one time.
12. Human fishing. In the late 1800s, an odd game was introduced in Australia called human fishing, and it’s as strange as it sounds. One person (usually a strong swimmer) would play the role of a fish. He would wear a harness. An opponent would stay on the shore with a strong rod and special, strong fishing line. The fishing line would be attached to the harness of the “fish.” When the human fish would dive out into the water and swim as hard as he could, the player with the fishing pole would have 10 minutes to try and reel in his opponent. While some folks enjoyed the thrill of human fishing, it was a bit dangerous and wasn’t popular for long.
13. Eel pulling. During the 1800s in Amsterdam, a particularly cruel sport called eel pulling was made popular. A rope was tied to one end of a canal and stretched across. A live eel was tied to the middle of the rope and hung down from it. Players would get in their boats and try to snatch the eel free from the rope as they crossed underneath. Often, the competitors would try so hard to capture the slippery eel that they would end up in the water themselves.
14. Cock shying. Another blood sport practiced in Europe in the 1700s was cock shying. Some called it cock throwing. Basically, in this horrid sport, a rooster was tied to a stake and players took turns throwing special weighted sticks at the bird until it was dead. The game was particularly popular among children. It was outlawed in the 1800s when leaders deemed it inhumane and barbaric.
15. Pancake race. Olney, a town in southeast England became the home of a pancake race in 1445. The race is limited to housewives and young women of Olney. It’s a 400-meter dash run by women wearing skirts, aprons and kerchiefs and carrying a frying pan with a pancake inside. The participants are also required to flip the pancake once at the beginning of the race and again just as they cross the finish line.
Through the years, sports have been a reliable source of competition, entertainment and diversion for humanity. From wrestling in olive oil to boxing on horseback, these unusual forms of sport are a part of our history.
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