Thursday, 1 August 2013

The best national sports you’ve never tried

The world is full of weird and wonderful sports that we rarely, if ever, hear about. While living the expat life you have the perfect opportunity to go and watch, you never know, even play, these games.

What’s Argentina’s national sport? Football is the obvious response but not the right one. No, it’s Pato.  Since 1953, Pato, which is best described as a mix of polo and basketball, has officially been the national game.
Picture source: flickr

The game is not a new one though having its roots in the early seventeenth century. It was outlawed by the Catholic Church in 1882 as they disapproved of the game’s violence. This is perhaps understandable when considering that the ball was a live duck in a basket. You’ll be relieved to hear that this is no longer the case though. The sport is now played with a leather ball with six handles. However, it is from the duck that the sport draws its name as ‘duck’ in Spanish is pato.

The game sees two teams of four riders on horseback vie to score by launching the ball into a net at either end of the huge field. With playing areas of up to 220m by 90m, this is no mean feat. As well as having to pass and ride these distances the players are only allowed to touch the ball with their right hand. The most prestigious annual pato competition is the Abierto Argentino de Pato but games are staged throughout the year so there is plenty of opportunity to go along and watch the exciting spectacle.

Not your cup of tea? Another athletic and surprising national game is that of Malaysia. Sepak Takraw is played across Asia and it is now a medaling sport in the Asian games, one of the biggest events in Asia, after the Olympic and Paralympic games. However, many people outside of Asia have never even heard of it. Like pato it has a long history having been invented by the Malayan royal family about 500 years ago. Sepak means ‘kick’ in Malay and takraw means ‘ball’ in Thai- and kick-ball pretty much sums up the game.

Picture source: flickr

The court and net are both very similar to that in badminton; however players have to stand within marked circles. Each team has three players whose aim it is to kick the ball back to the opposition without the side touching it more than three times or allowing it to fall to the ground. Many of the games’ rules are similar to those in volleyball, though unlike volleyball they cannot use their hands or arms. Instead, they must return the ball with their head, back or foot. The ball is woven, originally from bamboo or rattan, but in the modern game from synthetic materials and includes 12 holes. Exchanges can reach up to 140km meaning this is not a game for the faint hearted! The game produces seriously fast paced and gymnastic displays.

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