Bizarre Sports: Buzkashi

Brace yourselves everyone, this one’s not pretty.

If you are an animal rights activist, or have a weak stomach, I encourage you to stop reading now.

The elegant Buzkashi literally translates to ‘goat bashing’ in Turkic, ‘buz’ being Turkic for ‘goat’ and ‘kashi’ meaning ‘bashing’. Buzkashi is the Central Asian sport in which horse-mounted players attempt to drag a goat carcass towards a goal. The games can, traditionally, last for several days, but in its more regulated tournament version has a limited match time.

The sport is commonly played amongst Kyrgz, Pashtuns, Kazakhs, Uzbeks, Hazaras, Tajiks and Turkmens. In the West, the game is also played by Afghani Turks, who migrated to Ulupamir village in the Van district of Turkey. In Western China, there is not only horse-back buzkashi, but also yak buzkashi among the Tajiks of Xinjiang. Rest assured, you’re all safe from the sport here in England.

The national game of Afghanistan may have begun with the nomadic Turkic-Mongl peoples, who came from farther north and east spreading westwards from China and Mongolia between the 10th and 15th centuries. Today, the game is indigenously shared by several Central Asian ethnic groups as listed above. From Scythian times until recent decades, the sport remains as a legacy of that bygone era.

The competition in buzkashi is very fierce, and prior to the official rules established by the Afghan Olympic Federation, the sport was conducted on rules prohibiting actions in the nature of whipping other riders and knocking them off their horses. As I said, fierce…and frightening.

The attire usually consists of heavy clothing, and head protection to protect themselves against other players’ whips and boots (head protection from boots? While riding horses? How?). The boots adorned usually have high heels that lock into the saddle of the horse to help the rider lean on the side of the horse while trying to pick up the goat. Top players, such as Aziz Ahmad, are often sponsored by wealthy Afghans.

The rules introduced by the Afghan Olympic Federation are as follows:

1. The ground has a square layout with each side 400 metres long

2. Each team consists of 10 riders each

3. Only five riders from each team can play in a half

4. The total duration of each half is 45 minutes

5. There is only one 15 minute break between the two halves

6. The game is supervised by a referee

7. Based on the referee’s decision, a rider can be substituted during the game.

The game is, essentially, an odd mix of soccer, polo, and dead goats. Sounds like my kind of sport (not).

In Tajikistan, buzkashi is played in a variety of ways, the most common is a free-form game, often played in a mountain valley (naturally) or other natural arena, in which each player competes individually to seize the carcass and carry it to a goal. Forming unofficial teams or alliances does occur but is discouraged.

This seems to be ranging into basketball…only without teams and giants (I mean, men), and with a dead animal carcass instead of a basketball. Yum.

As you can imagine, this can get very chaotic with dozens of riders competing simultaneously to retrieve a ‘fallen buz’ (ie: dead (usually headless) goat). These games typically consist of many short matches, with prizes being awarded to all those who successfully score goals.

The buzkashi season in Tajikistan generally runs from November through April (I know when I won’t be going!).

In Afghanistan, the belief is that a skilful Chapandaz (player) is usually in his forties, so the players can undergo sever physical practice and observation (for the retired basketball players, I’m sure). The players do not necessarily own the horses, which are usually owned by landlords and highly rick people. A master Chapandaz can, however, choose to select any horse and the owner of the horse usually wants his horse to be ridden by a master.

This will, naturally, pride the owner if his horse wins.

At it’s core, the game consists of two main forms: Tudabarai and Qarajai.

Tudabarai is considered to be the simpler form of the game. In this version, the goal is simply to grab the goat and move in any direction until clear of the other players. Like Soccer.

Qarajai, on the other hand, has players carrying the carcass around a flag or marker at one end of the field, then throw it into a scoring circle (ironically, the ‘Circle of Justice’) at the other end. The riders will carry a whip, often in their teeth, to fend off opposing horses and riders.

As you can see, the sport exudes humanity.

Now the part everyone’s been waiting to learn about: the dead animal carcass.

While the sport is called ‘goat bashing’, calves are the more preferred…object.

The calf in a buzkashi game is normally beheaded and disembowelled and has its limbs cut off at the knees. Charming.

It is then soaked in cold water for 24 hours before play to toughen it. (This just gets better and better, doesn’t it?)

Occasionally, sand is packed into the carcass to give it extra weight.

Though a goat is used when no calf is available, a calf is less likely to disintegrate during the game.

And that is as much as I can write about this sport. Disintegration of animals from being dragged around for sport is where I draw the line.

Queasiness, all in the name of reporting, right?

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