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Five Strange Sports

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by Chris Henniker (subscribe)
There are 6m postcodes in London, what's happening in yours?
Published August 30th 2016
It's not cricket
By Dave Farrance, CC BY-SA 3.0,

In the post-Olympic lull before The Paralympic Games begin, most of the armchair athletes are turning over to the football, especially now the season has started. I'm not really into sports (though I do work out), but when these multi-Sports events come up every four years (an Olympiad is a period of exactly that), it piques my curiosity. I go onto Wikipedia and look up anything similar, with questions bubbling up, like: "what are the strangest sports?" I can think of a few, but you're sure to find a few on YouTube, such as mediaeval combat.

Mediaeval Combat:

This sport is something that I can definitely imagine in the ancient Olympic Games, if they were Christianised and carried on. Basically, it's two teams or individual athletes sword fighting in mediaeval armour over three rounds in a brawl that could be seen as a cross between every Hollywood Middle Ages fight scene and your local high street on a Friday night. That said, only psychopaths would have a sword in the local high street. Competition starts when two teams are in a rectangular ring, advancing on the enemy when a stick is waved. The object is to get the enemy down, with the team with the most men down loses. Like in boxing, you do see fighters on the ropes and it can be very intense. Hell, even the commentary on YouTube is intense and often very funny.

In Russia, some Mixed Martial Arts events have matches with two warriors in Medieval armour engaging in hand to hand combat, which became very popular with fight fans there.

Watching it has got me thinking: in five hundred years time, will you have reenactments of Bloods and Crips gang fights by the successor to The Sealed Knot? Will you have gang fighting becoming a sport, as a twentieth-century fighting league?

Chess boxing:

Moving into the twenty-first century, Chess Boxing is exactly what it says: alternating rounds of chess and boxing. Postmodern to the core, it's a juxtaposition of two seemingly disparate sports that have quite a bit in common. Both rely on strategy and you can see parts of the body to chess pieces. Your fists are the pawns and your head is the rook, which must be protected because it's your headquarters.

Chess boxing started as a story in the graphic novel, Cold Equator, by Enki Bilal. In Bilal's story, the two competitors would fight twelve rounds of boxing before a chess match. Being impractical, the performance artist, Eipe Rubingh, refined it and staged a performance art piece that garnered attention since 2003. According to Time Magazine, high-profile supporters include Lennox Lewis, which is hardly surprising. Many boxers use chess as part of their training to focus the mind, develop strategy and tactics.

Matches consist of twelve rounds alternating between speed chess and boxing. You win by checkmate on the board, knockout in the ring, resignation or points, if you go the distance. From what I've heard, chess boxing events are fun nights out. I'd love to go to one, as you get entertainment including strippers, comedians, maybe a mime artist. Even fighters names are quite witty, like Grevious Bodily Farmer. Yes, he is a farmer.

As a believer in Oscar Wilde's dictum that life imitates art, I think it's only a matter of time when someone will take something from a novel and it becomes a sport within a few years.

Chess boxing matches in London are advertised on and are broadcast on, so don't miss out on the battle of brains and brawn. After all, the World Chess Boxing Organisation's motto is: "Fighting is done in the ring and wars are waged on the board."

Tank Biathlon:

If wars are fought on the board, then what happens if the board's a whole country? If it was, then the sport for you might be Tank Biathlon. Like the biathlon you see in the winter Olympic Games, only with tracks instead of skis, it's a race between teams of tank crews who drive a course and fire at targets several miles away.
When watching this on YouTube, I was reminded of when I was in Orbital Comics, near Chinatown. Looking at the Japanese manga section, I came across this comic about a Japanese high school that has a team of girls fighting tank battles using German World War Two battle tanks. Although I believe that life imitates art, this seems like it could be the other way. But with international tensions escalating, I somehow think this manga, and the sport, is prophetic because we could be seeing schools slugging it out on the wastelands of Siberia in the not too distant future.

Cheese Rolling:

A sport needn't be militaristic or violent to produce broken bones and blood, as Gloucestershire Cheese Rolling proves. Basically a race to the bottom of Cooper's Hill, near Cheltenham, this quaint English tradition takes (cheesy, I know) place every Whitsun bank holiday. Beginning in 1800, people chase a wheel of cheese down Cooper's Hill, with the first one down the hill being the winner.
Watching the footage, the best way to go down the hill seems to be slide and roll down, which is where bones are broken. As one participant said: "Run, lean back and keep momentum." Another said: "You've got to run like a sprint, but down." I couldn't help but laugh at the possibility that we're nothing but Pavlov's dogs chasing after food.

Yeah, the winner does get to keep the cheese.


Indian gymnastics derived from yoga and Indian wrestling training done on a pole for the boys, and a rope for girls. Whilst it takes great skill and training, I can't help but notice that rope Malakhamb looks like some performance you'll find in a very posh fetish club. I think it's the bondage connotations of the rope that make it so, but it reminds me of Art Deco figurines because of its elegance.

Competition is judged under the same rules as Olympic gymnastics and Rope Malakhamb can be set to music.

Strange as these sports are, you're able to appreciate the athleticism or eccentricity of them, both physically and mentally. Who wants to stick themselves fifteen feet above the floor, on a rope and wow the crowd, because you can? I bet it makes football boring, as you're seeing it all before. I mean, it's not cricket.
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