Five for Friday: Wacky Geographical Sports

Sometimes we fail to consider how much of our lives are affected by the places we live. The needs and resources of different regions have an impact on everything from jobs to food to recreational activities. The five sports I will describe below are all products of their distinct locations, but even sports that can be played anywhere often have their origins in a particular country’s geography.

1)    Elephant Polo

ELE.JPGYes, it’s polo played on the backs of elephants. The sport dates back to the beginning of the twentieth century, where it was first played in Nepal, Sri Lanka, some parts of India, and Thailand. In 1982, the World Elephant Polo Association (WEPA) held the first World Elephant Polo Championship. WEPA adopted strict rules to ensure the safety of both the elephants and the riders, including limitations on the number of games each elephant can play, and when they can play–all games must end by noon so that the elephants don’t get too hot.

The elephants that participate in polo were originally domesticated by humans for their immense strength.

Some elephants were used for logging, others for tourism–an industry that continues to grow in places such as Thailand. WEPA claims that currently there are only around 20 wild elephants in Nepal –the rest are all domesticated. Here is a video of an elephant polo match in India.

2)    Wife Carrying

The name says it all; Wife Carrying is exactly what it sounds like. Husbands throw their wives over their backs and run through obstacle courses. Over logs and through muddy water, they race against other couples, competing for the grand prize: the weight of winning couple’s wife in beer. The only real rules on wives are: they have to be over the age of 17 and they have to weigh at least 108 pounds. Costumes are encouraged, and in some countries rewarded with prizes.

Wife Carrying originated in Finland, where a 19th century legend has it that men stole wives from neighboring villages. The Wife Carrying World Championships are hosted in the Finnish town of Sonkajärven each July. The contest’s popularity has inspired similar events in the United States, Australia, Ireland and even China. In 2008, 39 couples competed, and, historically, the competition has included Finnish, Japanese, Chinese, Irish, American, Australian, English, Kenyan, Swedish, German, and Estonian competitors. However, the Finnish competition is the mother race, its origins lying in legend and tradition, rather than in natural resources.

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