When we think of the world’s great sporting events, we tend to focus on spectacles such as the World Cup, the Olympics, the Derby, the Monaco Grand Prix or the University Boat Race. Yet there is also an alternative world of competition where participants risk life, limb and often dignity for meagre rewards in truly weird sporting pursuits. Step forward the Indonesian sport of sepak bola api, a variation of football in which the barefoot players kick a ball that is on fire; Germany’s Mud Olympics, at which competitors play soccer, volleyball and handball while knee-deep in mud; yak racing from Mongolia; Oregon’s Pig-N-Ford Races where drivers speed around the track while carrying a live pig under one arm; and Australia’s variation of the Boat Race, the Henley-on-Todd Regatta, where, instead of rowing, teams carry their boats along the dry bed of the River Todd.
This book lists geographically the world’s 100 weirdest sports events, giving full details of their rules and colourful history. They include the grotesque (the national sport of Afghanistan is buzkashi, in which riders on horseback aim to drag the headless carcass of a dead goat towards their opponents’ goal), the dangerous (Japanese hardcore wrestlers batter each other with glass fluorescent light tubes instead of their bare hands), and the downright daft in the form of the World Black Pudding Throwing Championships, the World Flounder Tramping Championships, the World Gravy Wrestling Championships and the World Shin-Kicking Championships.
Races are staged in all kinds of transportation. Canada is home to the Great Klondike Outhouse Race (for portable toilets), the Vancouver Bathtub Race, and the Windsor Pumpkin Regatta; Colorado hosts the annual Emma Crawford Coffin Races; and the pride of Yorkshire is the Great Knaresborough Bed Race, where teams push a bed (containing human occupant) along a 2.4-mile course that requires a wet crossing of the River Nidd.
Animals feature heavily, too. As well as traditional races for ostriches (complete with jockeys), cockroaches (no jockey required), armadillos, sheep, and Oklahoma City’s splendid Dachshund Dash, rubber-duck racing is one of the fastest growing sports of recent years with events being held in several countries. Other competitions test an animal’s ability to do more than just run or float, such as elephant polo, dog surfing, camel wrestling, rabbit show jumping and pig diving. It is not beyond the realms of possibility that in the near future we may even be treated to synchronized pig diving.
Although the plunging porkers might disagree, the appeal of many of these sports is enhanced by taking part. If cheese rolling or volcano boarding are too energetic for your taste, ice golf or underwater hockey too uncomfortable, and lingerie football wouldn’t show off your legs to best effect, you could always enjoy more leisurely pursuits like the world championships in rock, paper, scissors or pooh sticks. If, on the other hand, you prefer a watching brief, you could try your hand at cow patty bingo, a North American contest where a field is divided into numbered squares, and contestants bet on which square the cow will take a poop. It is probably the only occasion in life when you can make money from one number two on top of another.