Obscure Sports from Around the World?

While semi-lost in the Guanacaste Mountains somewhere between Montenegro and Herradura, Costa Rica, the bus my friends and I were on made an unscheduled stop at a plaza the size of half a football field, where five or six small houses faced each other in a semi-circle. There was a fiesta and, since everyone got off the bus and it looked like we were staying for a while, we were automatically invited. (The bus had also stopped in the town at the foot of the mountain we were now on to watch a soccer match.) The enclave hung off the side of the mountain above the clouds.

Soon after we arrived some of the guests mounted horses. A ladder was brought to the middle of the plaza. On what I assumed had been a communal clothesline that stretched the width of the plaza, people climbed the ladder and hung small steel rings hung from ribbons. I can’t remember exactly the process, but I believe there were three rings hung for each rider with smaller and smaller circumferences, the largest being no more than a half an inch or so.

Each rider had a small, carved lance that they would hold palm up and charge at the ring. I remember being astounded at the skill and accuracy required to snatch a ring, like the Tico version of catching a housefly midair with chopsticks. I also remember, being a North American kid from a working class family, just out of high school, the whole otherworldy-ness of it all. Being there through pure chance and experiencing what to me was an absolute spectacle encapsulated everything I imagined travel could be. I had walked out of the everyday and in to one of the National Geographics I had poured over month after month for time immemorial.

It was the first time I had left my country and visited another.


Pallone col bracciale has been played in North-Western Italy since the Renaissance. The rules are basically similar to tennis but played over much longer distances, with the players using spiked wooden gauntlet/clubs to hit a heavy ball back and forth. YouTube

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Have to agree that Takraw as one of the most intense, amazing games I have ever seen. I was traveling on business in Bangkok and saw a few neighborhood guys playing on a rooftop court. The agility and athleticism they displayed was unbelievable - like watching volleyball being played with only your feet. Must see!

Well, it’s obscure in the US, but very popular in Asia - dragon boating! It’s a 2000 year old Chines sport - I’ve been part of a team for around five years. It’s more popular on the west coast of the US and in Canada. Here’s a link - nice video from the Kelowna club: YouTube


Don’t forget the National Sport of Mexico - Jai Alai. When I was there only professionals were allowed to play as it is so dangerous.


The Inuit One-Foot-High-Kick requires incredible strength, control, and precision. The goal is to kick a suspended ball with one foot while in the air and then land on that same foot. It’s considered the most difficult of the Inuit games.


Colorado’s State Summer Heritage Sport: Pack burro racing: Pack burro racing - Wikipedia

The burros aren’t ridden…they are carrying some equipment…but racers run next to the burro for the entire distance.

We even have a triple crown which includes the 29 mile race from Fairplay to the top of Mosquito Pass (13,190 feet) from the east side. The Fairplay race is followed the next week by the 22 mile Leadville race which races to the top of the same pass from the west side. The third leg of the triple crown is the short 12 mile Buena Vista race.

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AUSTUS was a hybrid form of football taking in elements of both American football and Australian rules football, and was created during WW2 so that Australian and American servicemen in Australia could play the same sport. It was similar to Australian rules football, but as well as kicking the ball, players were allowed to throw the ball forward as in American football, although goals had to be kicked within 20 metres of the goalposts. Here is a link to the only known surviving footage of AUSTUS being played.


That’s such a cool story.

Kabbadi! I invite you to watch a game with the sound off, and try to figure out what the rules are.


Also… Pesapallo, Finnish baseball:


Strange sports was a fruitful topic for projects with multinational students I met and taught here in the UK last summer! (Fruitful in terms of both teaching English and in learning about wildly diverse cultures!)

I tried to teach a few of them how to play cricket (a highly obscure sport if you come from a non-Commonwealth country) and crafted some classroom language learning around it. What was even weirder and more entertaining was a project where students had to research unusual sports and competitions from around the World. It was a lot of fun and we all learnt a lot about such unique activities as sumo baby crying contests and a sorta-kinda one-legged hopping Omani variation on sumo shoving.

As for obscure sports that I’ve actually got experience of, we had a PE teacher at high school who made us play his version of Danish Longball. A hybrid of rounders, dodgeball and British bulldog, two teams take it in turns as the batting side and the catching/fielding side. At either end of the active playing area there are two safe zones and the bowler (pitcher) and fielders stand in the middle. (We played this in a school sports hall, so the playing area was enclosed by the walls that ran down both sides. It turned into something of a cauldron or like a corridor you have to fight your way down.)

The batter steps up and hits the dodgeball-style ball thrown at them by the bowler with their hand. If it’s caught without bouncing, they’re out. Otherwise, the challenge is to hit the ball and then run to the other end of the playing area. If they reach that safe zone without a fielder getting the ball, throwing it at them and hitting them (dodgeball style) under the neck then they’re safe. If they are hit beneath the neck, they’re gone. They then have to either stay in the safe zone or run back to the other side, where they can hit again when they’re up on the block. This continues until there’s no one standing ready to bat or until everyone has been caught or hit out.

If I remember rightly, that’s how we played it but Wikipedia suggests a game with many differences. (For a start, they have actual bats!) Regardless, it was a lot of fun in spite of the fact that it was brutal and intense! Hormone-raging high school teens given an excuse to throw stuff at their peers will inevitably take no prisoners…


Do drinking games count?

I guess if it’s a sport, which I’m sure some people consider them.

Then I give you… Hammershlagen. An old German game/sport updated converted to a drinking game.

I apologize in advance for the cringe inducing bro level of this video. It was the best one I could find that combined both rules and gameplay footage.
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Reiska World Championship 2019 in Vesanto, Finland – “football with slippers on”.

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I’m sure how obscure it is, especially in Afghanistan, but Buzkashi is an amazing sport with very few rules except in the Olympic version. Picture a large field with dozens of people on horse back all chasing after a goat carcass, whipping both the horses and other riders; the winner gets $10, and then the chaos starts over again. Spectators and concession stalls alike run out of the way when the horses head your direction. It’s free to enter, but it’s one of the most dangerous sports in the world.

I watched a match in January, and had no idea what was going on most of the time but it was a thoroughly enjoyable afternoon.

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Flaming puck unicycle hockey! Invented in Toronto, Canada (of course!) by Darrin Bedford, it’s a summer hockey game played on unicycles on pavement w/a special puck that’s dunked in a flammable fluid and set on fire just before play. (The flame makes a nice blue flame line as you hit it to start the game). Regular ice hockey rules apply–sticks down, etc. We played this game at NAUCC some years ago, and it’s crazy fun on a unicycle! Video by www.justonewheel.com https://youtu.be/AoVJBWW_Q7c Also: https://images.app.goo.gl/DNSCVJuJF21UgUqb7flaming%20puck%20unicycle%20hockey


In South Africa they play a sport called Jukskei Jukskei is a 270-year-old folk sport ( Jukskei is believed to have originated around 1743 in the Cape of Good Hope, South Africa,[1] developed by “transport riders” who traveled with ox-drawn wagons.[2] They used the wooden pins of the yokes (Afrikaans: Skei ) of the oxen to throw at a stick that was planted into the ground. The game was also played during the Great Trek.[3] It was also played by the farmers from the Boland on beaches.

Jukskei became an organized sport around the year 1939, when the first unions were established and rules were formalized.[1]


The sport is traditionally associated with the Afrikaners and in 2001 it was chosen by the SA government as one of the sports to be included in the Indigenous Games Project.[2] Since then the game has started to gain popularity with young people of all cultures.[4] There is usually a team of 4 players, of whom one is the captain, but it can also be played in pairs or singles. Jukskei in South Africa is played at schools, club and provincial level, and there is an annual tournament in Kroonstad in the Free State.[5] Jukskei is also being played in Namibia and the USA. The three countries are affiliated to the International Jukskei Federation (IJF).

Basic rules[edit]


Dimensions of a Jukskei field - distances given to closest pin; 9m between pins

The object of the game is to knock over a peg that is planted in a sandpit over a distance of between 11 and 16 m (depending on age and gender). It is played in teams with usually four members each. Each member has two skeis (and thus two turns). The playing field consists of two pits juxtaposed in opposite directions, so that play can take place in both directions. Each time a team member knocks over the peg, he gets three points. If the peg wasn’t knocked out, the team lying closest to the position of the peg, scores as many points as they have skeis closer to the peg than their opponent’s closest skei. The first team to get exactly 23 points first wins the game. If the team gets more than 23 points, they start from 0.[2][Afrikaans] and the forerunner of American [horseshoe pitching]

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Up here in Vermont (and more recently in New Hampshire and upstate New York) a few of us compete in primitive biathlon. You might know about Olympic biathlon - people in spandex on skinny skis with precision .22 rifles skiing and shooting. Like that, only with wooden snowshoes and muzzleloading rifles, 18th/19th century style. There are three events in Vermont and a couple each in upstate NY and NH.

The courses are generally 1-1/2 to 2 miles, with 9 steel gong targets of all sizes and shapes spread out along the course. Each hit takes five minutes off your running time. The challenges are that 1) moving at any decent speed on snowshoes makes your pulse and breathing skyrocket, so holding still is hard, and 2) keeping an old style firearm working in sub-freezing temperatures is an issue.

Some people dress the part, and others for cold weather survival. There’s a festive atmosphere; very few people are deadly serious about it. People encourage each other and help each other out.