Even if you’re a big sports fan, you’ve likely never seen anything like the World Nomad Games. Nothing quite matches them for sheer drama and spectacle, or for heart-pounding action and vivid displays of cultural pride.
The games, recently hosted by Kyrgyzstan, celebrate the nomadic heritage of Central Asia but also welcome athletes from the rest of the world. Fifty countries took part in the 2016 games, some with long nomadic histories.
Eagle hunting, bone throwing and mas-wrestling — where two contestants vie for control of a small stick — are among the featured sports. But the main attraction is kok-boru, a Central Asian form of polo in which two teams attempt to fling a goat carcass into a scoring zone. Kok-boru matches are intense, with riders throwing punches and wielding whips as they go.
The games’ opening ceremony showcased Kyrgyzstan’s nomadic traditions. At a 10,000-seat hippodrome four hours from Kyrgyzstan’s capital, Bishkek, whirling nomad women and galloping horsemen entertained spectators while images on a huge screen related the story of the Kyrgyz nation.
“If Genghis Khan were alive, he’d want to be here,” an announcer told the crowd.
Kok-boru matches were held at the hippodrome. A mountain pasture dotted with yurts hosted additional sports and performances of traditional drama and music. Karat, a spectator from Bishkek, voiced his approval: Kyrgyzstan, he said, “has put on a show for the whole world to show them our great traditions.”