16 of the most dangerous traditional games played around the world

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Daniel LeClair/Reuters

In America, grown men hurl themselves at each other at insane velocities, often resulting in devastating outcomes.

We call this sport “football.”

The US isn’t the only country that loves violent and dangerous activities, however.

Traditional games from all around the world – from cheese rolling in the UK to horseback wrestling in Kyrgyzstan – reveal just how strongly people have an urge to get physical.

We just hope their parents signed the necessary consent forms.


In the village of Studenicani, near Macedonia’s capital city of Skopje, men cover their bodies in oil before competing in the country’s traditional wrestling competition. In nearby Turkey, oil wrestling is the national sport.

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Ognen Teofilovski/Reuters

Bavarian men try to pull one another across the table as part of the country’s traditional finger pulling championship, called “Fingerhakeln.”

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Alexandra Beier/Reuters

An exhibition game of Maya Ball takes place in Guatemala City, Guatemala. The aim of the ancient game is to hit the ball through a hoop on the side of a wall.

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Daniel LeClair/Reuters

In the Osh region of Kyrgyzstan, men on horseback wrestle one another trying to dismount their opponent during the Kyrgyz horse games and festival.

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Vladimir Pirogov/Reuters

The South African tradition known as “Musangwe” pits young men and boys from the Venda tribe against one other in contests of bare-knuckle boxing.

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Siphiwe Sibeko/Reuters

The national sport of Afghanistan is “buzkashi.” Riders on horseback must carry a headless goat corpse from one end of the stadium to the other as opponents try to steal it from them.

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Erik de Castro/Reuters

In Malta’s traditional version of “gostra,” young men, women, and children must scale a greased-up pole and retrieve one of the flags to win prizes. The game dates back to the Middle Ages.

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Darrin Zammit Lupi/Reuters

In three minutes, men from Jiaxing, in China’s Zhejiang province, must wrestle a full-grown bull to the ground. The competition is called “Guanniu.”

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William Hong/Reuters

Despite a heavy rainstorm, Guizhou province, China, holds a dragon boat race during its annual Dragon Boat Festival.

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China Daily/Reuters

On ‘Shrove Tuesday’ and Ash Wednesday in central England, players on two teams — the Up’ards and Down’ards — hit a ball the length of three miles to knock it against a stone pedestal.

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Darren Staples/Reuters

Tree-climbing is a tradition in Kosovo. During the Rugova Traditional Games, held during the first week in August, participants scale a 26-foot-tall pole without any tools whatsoever.

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Hazir Reka/Reuters

“Kabbadi,” a roughed-up version of tag played in northern India, requires players to catch their opponents in specific territories on the field all while repeating the word “Kabbadi” aloud.

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Ajay Verma/Reuters

In Kazakhstan, hunters on horseback play tug of war with a goat skin, trying to secure the skin while also drawing their opponents off the horse. The game is popular throughout Central Asia.

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Stringer Mongolia/Reuters

During a Lelo match, a 35-pound ball is hoisted overhead by hundreds of participants in Shukhuti, Georgia. The goal is to move the ball from one village to another, all while each participant fights for control.

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David Mdzinarishvili/Reuters

Similarly, in Ashbourne, Britain, two teams must battle to move a ball to their respective bank of the River Henmore. The goals on the banks are three miles apart. Each team needs three points to win.

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Phil Noble/Reuters

Cheese-rolling is a fan favorite in the UK and New Zealand. The below competition takes place in Gloucester, in southern England, beginning on a near-vertical hill.

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Darren Staples/Reuters

Participants run full-speed downhill to catch the rolling wedge.

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Darren Staples/Reuters

Inevitably, there are spills.

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Darren Staples/Reuters

But like all dangerous sports, the thrill of victory trumps all.

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Darren Staples/Reuters