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The Unusual Times
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Obscure Sports That Deserve a Renaissance

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Ballooning, cannon-shooting, fire-fighting, kite-flying and pigeon-racing were all featured as ‘demonstration and unofficial sports’ in the 1900 Olympic Games. With these unusual competitive pastimes in mind we take a look at some other remarkable sports which deserve a renaissance.

Water jousting has its origins in the spectacular naval ‘battles’ staged in ancient Rome known as naumachia. This was the bloodiest form of Roman entertainment (and that’s saying something), and the unlucky participants were condemned men. Fortunately, modern water jousting is an altogether more civilised affair. Today, contestants in Switzerland, France and Germany, armed only with a lance and a shield, compete to knock their opponents from the stern of a boat. Losers of the game end up very wet indeed. 

The elegant and exciting sport of curling is played on ice with curling brooms, stones and curling shoes. With an estimated 1.5 million players worldwide, curling is the least obscure of our choices, but we wish to include it because of its Scottish origins (and its utilisation of ice, that most kingly of water states). Historically it was played in Ayrshire by weavers who used the heavy stone weights from the looms' warp beams. 

Viking martial art!
It’s hard to imagine anything more invigorating than the Viking martial art of Glíma. Brokartök (trouser-grip) is the most popular form of Glíma and is the national sport of Iceland. 

A peach attached to a goat’s foot?
It was noted in records from 1300 that Prince Edward enjoyed playing ‘creag’. Unfortunately no one is quite sure what creag was. Some have suggested it was a form of proto-cricket, others a spelling variation of the word ‘craic’, a word still in use meaning general fun. Employing a unique research method* we have come up with our own theory: we believe that a ‘creag’ was a race held between a pelican and bailiff to eat a peach attached to the shoe of a fleeing goat. 

How to get a head in sports
The Mesoamerican ballgame is not a game you should lose your head over. The game was played in Central America and ancient Mexico from around 1500 BCE and took place on a large stone court (around the size of a football field). Players could use their hips to keep the heavy rubber ball in motion, but not their hands. A very high hoop served as the goal. The losing teams were sometimes beheaded (in some versions of the game the winning team captain was also sacrificed). It is possible that the ball was replaced with a human head for the second half of the game. This gruesome game is not one we wish to bring back. Instead we would prefer to celebrate Ulama, a team game still popular today, requiring deft hips and a rubber ball (and no human sacrifice). The game, which is played in Sinaloa in Mexico, is related to the Aztec form of the Mesoamerican ballgame and is one of the oldest sports in the world. 

Falling asleep by the fire after a particularly rich Stilton and dreaming.

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