Wrestling, footy, wife-carrying: unique sports around the world

A group of players compete in an Australian rules football match

Each new year brings with it resolutions or intentions, and one of the most popular ones is to get fit. Many people opt to join a gym, while some may take part in club sports in their community. Kickball, dodgeball, basketball, soccer, softball--these are some of the most popular community sports to join. But some other countries have more unique sports that are worth looking into, either to play yourself or enjoy as a spectator.

Wrestling in West Africa

When I studied abroad in The Gambia, I frequently saw men practicing their wrestling skills on the beach, and it was only a few years later when I learned that wrestling isn't considered just a way to pass the time, but is a serious sport that is incredibly popular across West Africa, and especially in Senegal. Wrestling, or laamb, does not take place in a ring or on a mat, as we are more familiar with it in the US, but rather in the sand, either in a stadium or, for amateurs, on the beach. Laamb looks similar to amateur wrestling as we may know it, but it also can involve punching and hitting. Today, many wrestlers aim to reach the professional level where they can attract sponsors and make up to $200,000 a match. But part of its popularity also arose from its accessibility: one doesn't need special equipment or access to facilities in order to become a wrestler in Senegal. What it takes is practice and dedication to the art of wrestling itself: "It's composed of many different forms of combat," says [local sports journalist Malick] Thiandoum. "To be a good wrestler you need to be a good judoka, a good boxer; you have to master Greco-Roman wrestling, Olympic wrestling... you have to be an all-round sportsman." It is also known for the mystical or spiritual aspects of it, as described in the video below: each wrestler will often have a marabout, or spiritual advisor, to assist and guide them along the way.

Australian Rules Football

Developed in the nineteenth century, Australian rules football, often referred to as footy or AFL (for Australian Football League), could probably be likened to a unique mix of soccer and rugby. The sport was frequently played on cricket pitches, which otherwise went unused in the winter months, and today there is actually no one uniform size for AFL grounds. Today, the AFL has eighteen teams and is wildly popular across the country, and has unique rules that might best be understood by watching the video below:

Players run with the ball, but must bounce it every sixteen yards. They also will kick the ball to pass or score, and may also do so by using their fist to move the ball forward. Different aspects of the sport may look similar to others, like basketball, soccer, American football, and rugby, but it is a uniquely Australian product. The rules may seem complicated, but if you have the chance to attend an AFL match in Australia or watch one on TV, you might be surprised to find that it is also quite easy to catch on to.

Wife Carrying in Finland

You may be thinking, "No way, that can't be real." Well, it's real, and it's based in Finland. Every year, the town of Sonkajarvi hosts the World Wife Carrying Championship, bringing competitors and fans from many countries, including the US, the UK, and Sweden. The contest is more complex than it sounds, as it involves much more than simply carrying another person: the race involves "running, wading through a slippery pool and getting through an obstacle course." According to Reuters, the sport was likely inspired by either "the 19th century legend of Ronkainen the Robber, who tested aspiring members of his gang by forcing them to carry sacks of grain or live pigs over a similar course," or perhaps the early practice of wife-stealing. Either way, one volunteer stated one reason she believes the sport persists today: "because we have only three months of light we need to come up with nice stuff to do during the summertime, and we want to show everyone we have a great sense of humor." The winner of the championship receives "the equivalent of the wife's weight in beer," as well as various wife-carrying products. There are also prizes given to the most entertaining couple, the best costume, and the strongest carrier.

Kabaddi in South Asia

Especially popular on the Indian subcontinent, kabaddi is the official sport of multiple Indian states, and according to historians is at least 4,000 years old. The Kabaddi World Cup has taken place three times (in 2004, 2007, and 2016), and the sport has also been played in the Asian Games and in numerous kabaddi leagues throughout India, Pakistan, and across Asia. How is it played? A kabaddi match consists of two teams of seven players. One player from a team has thirty seconds to "raid" the other team and attempts to tag as many of the opposing players as possible while chanting the word "kabaddi." If they make it back to their side without being tackled, the raid is considered successful and the team receives a point for each player tagged; however, if they are tackled, the other team wins a point instead. That is the basic gist of kabaddi, but of course, it is more complicated than this "combination of red rover, tag, and wrestling." (In fact, there are actually two styles of the sport: the standard style, and the circle style!) The next Kabaddi World Cup is scheduled to take place in 2019, and will be hosted for the first time outside of India, in Dubai.

What are some interesting and unique sports that you've either heard of, played, or seen around the world? We've listed only a few here, but there are many more to learn about and enjoy. Let us know about your favorite sport over on our Facebook!