• June 8, 2023

The Nomadic Knights Olympics

Certainly, as things stand today, the disciplines practiced during the World Nomad Games they will never, ever be part of the Olympics we all know. One of the reasons was explained by Scott A. Zimmerman, captain of the American national team who, during the last competition of ethnic sports in Central Asia, was ranked 26th (out of 74 nations and not, Italy, so far, has not never attended). “We also use a dead goat to play, among other things,” he said. The reference is to the famous kou-boruone of the main attractions of the World Nomad Games, which include 37 types of races, most of which come from the world of hunting, fighting or survival in extreme situations.

Going back to our Games, let it be clear, it is not that the organizers of this sort of nomadic Olympics have ever requested to be part of it, also because their goals are far from exclusively competitive ones.

If, in fact, the athletes find themselves practicing bone throwing or hunting with eagles – and if, again, among the sports practiced there are as many as 17 different types of wrestling (including the famous one on horseback bare-chested, where the competitor weaker, like an exhausted boxer or a wounded bullfighter, clings to the horse’s head while the spectators, around, scream waiting for it to fall miserably to the ground) – if all this, in short, coexists, it is not only to win medals o to give a show: the aim of the competition is to protect and in some cases revive nomadic traditions, in particular those of Central Asia, whose culture was pushed towards extinction first by decades of Soviet collectivization and, then, from globalization. A question of political revenge, in practice. Certainly of pride.

It is thanks to Kyrgyzstan – a country that rises along the Silk Road, the ancient caravan route between distant China and our Mediterranean – that these bizarre games are taking on a growing notoriety profile. Brief historical summary: Kyrgyzstan suffered 72 years of Soviet communist rule; today, thirty years after the end of the USSR, it is a relatively poor, landlocked nation with about 6 million inhabitants, mostly Muslims, many of whom still spend most of the year in the yurts (the typical mobile tents) and grazing herds of sheep on the grassy mountains.

“We want to revive our historical identity, that’s the purpose of the games,” said Kanat Amankulov, former Minister of Youth and Sports of the country. And speaking of traditions and historical identities, it is no coincidence that, by now, the opening ceremony is a real celebration of the myth of creation, told from the point of view of nomads: first came the earth, then the human being and the horses, then the yurts. And finally, nomadism, which gave rise to everything else.

The first three editions of these Asian games all took place in Cholpon-Ata, Kyrgyzstan, on the shores of Lake Ysyk-Köl. To understand the success of the event, it is enough to point out that, while just over 600 athletes representing 19 countries participated in the 2014 edition, the third and last edition attracted almost 2 thousand competitors and the countries involved rose to 74.

There were also those who spared no criticism: on the one hand, animal rights activists; on the other hand, the many Kyrgyz people who believe that the money spent on games could be better used, for example for the development of schools. Perhaps it is also for this reason that the next edition will take place in Bursa, Turkey and, the next one in Azerbaijan. As we said, so far Italy – unlike Germany, Holland, Norway and a few other European nations – has never participated. But, after the success in curling, it would be interesting to see one day our compatriots practice the ordo, or the game of bowls with, instead of the classic rigid balls, the kneecaps of cows.

* Maurizio Fiorino, born in 1984, writer. His latest novel is Macello, edizioni and / or. Article published on dLUI June edition

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