What do you get when you take the headless corpse of a goat, two teams of 10 horses and riders with whips and lots and lots of testosterone? If you guessed “Buzkashi,” the national sport of Afghanistan, you can stop reading right here. If you said “what?”, then read on.
The sport of buzkashi is said to date to the 13th century and may have been enjoyed by luminaries, such as Ghengis Khan. Buzkashi is Dari for “goat grabbing,” and that pretty much explains the sport
There are two types of buzkashi: tudabari and qarajai. Tudabari is the simple version of the game, and honestly very few manly Afghans spend much time playing that version. Qarajai is the sport for the ultimate headless goat sport aficionado. In qarajai, both mounted teams gather in a circle around the designated starting position. In the center is the headless goat carcass. The goal of the game is for a rider to grab the goat—which usually weighs around 70 kilograms—and ride towards a post at the far end of the playing area. The rider or chapandaz (master player) rides around the post and back towards the starting position. The rider passes the starting point and drops the goat in his team’s circle; by doing this, players can score one or two points depending on the rules being used. At the end of the designated time, the team with the most points wins.
The game seems pretty straight forward, but while the chapandaz is grabbing the goat and riding away the opposing riders are doing their best to discourage him. The opposing team kick, hit and whip the rider that has the goat until the goat is dropped and then the next goat grabber moves in and the process is repeated.
The Afghan Olympic Federation has created a more formalized set of rules, but since the International Olympic Committee has strangely not indicated any immediate plans to include the sport in the official games, the more formalized rules have been slow to catch on within the world of buzkashi and are generally only followed in the city of Kabul. Did I mention that Rambo learned to play buzkashi in Rambo 3? Well, he did.
The cost to train a horse for the sport runs $700 – $2500. The average annual family income in Afghanistan is $426. The buzkashi season runs late October through March. The game is also played for special occasions such as weddings. Nothing says special day memories like the wedding photos taken with the headless goat grabbers.
The sport is not limited to Afghanistan and is played throughout Central Asia but with minor variations between countries. For those concerned about losing the pure essence of the sport need not be concerned as while rules may change, each country requires the use of some sort of dead animal during play.
Under the Taliban regime buzkashi was banned in Afghanistan, as the Taliban considered the game to be immoral. Absolutely no irony there then. Of course after the Taliban government fell the new government quickly removed the ban because a government has to have priorities. In other Afghanistan news the Tim Hortons franchise in Kandahar has closed, so no more coffee and doughnuts at halftime. Bummer.
Originally appeared in The Cascade Newspaper http://ufvcascade.ca/