Over three editions of the World Nomad Games, we took excited, worldly and not necessarily sport-minded individuals to the Nomad Games. Held in 2014, 2016 and 2018 at Cholpon Ata on the shores of Issyk Kol in Eastern Kyrgyzstan, it was a pretty cool and unique event.
I put emphasis on not all of those who joined us being sport fans because the World Nomad Games wasn’t just about sport, it was a celebration of unique cultures. An insight into traditions that are slowly disappearing and a heck of a lot of fun as well. Not only were there some phenomenally obscure sports but also cultural activities, concerts and just general socialising and mingling.
For those that are interested, the sports on display included Kok Boru (also known as Buzkashi, or dead goat polo), horseback archery, several forms of traditional wrestling, long distance archery, horseback wrestling, and what are referred to as “intellectual games”, just to name a few.
The next edition of the World Nomad Games is to be held in Turkey, on the outskirts of the city of Bursa, about 100km south of Istanbul, near the shores of the Sea of Marmara. It was to be held in 2020, but due to the Coronavirus pandemic, it was postponed until late in 2022. This is the first time it’s being held outside of Kyrgyzstan.
We’re a little saddened because Kyrgyzstan is a small country who deserves a moment in the spotlight, a thoroughly underrated destination with so much to offer, as opposed to Turkey, not exactly a minnow on the world stage. The World Nomad Games were probably the single biggest event Kyrgyzstan has ever hosted and it not only boosted their confidence, but also put much needed tourist dollars into local communities.
It also seems a bit of a shame, because Turkey isn’t and wasn’t a nomadic country. Highlighting this nuanced traditional lifestyle is not something Turkey can authentically achieve. We could understand if the next instalment was to be held in Mongolia for example, or Kyrgyzstan’s northern neighbour of Kazakhstan, or even somewhere like Canada with a proud Inuit population, but Turkey doesn’t really fit the brief. Part of the experience of the first three instalments of this thoroughly amazing event, wasn’t only sitting in the main stadium watching the world’s best nomadic warriors have it out, but also journeying into the mountains where genuine nomads still live, graze, build their yurts and enjoy their lives.
Most importantly, the Nomad Games at Cholpon Ata were a very relaxed affair. After all Kyrgyzstan isn’t trying to win political influence over anyone, nor distract their populace from an economic crisis. Kyrgyzstan simply loves these sports and loves any excuse to go out and drink a beer, eat some sunflower seeds and relax in the sun. It’s a well-known fact that Turkey has recently decided to look east rather than west, and they have been very open about the fact that holding the Nomad Games will help increase their prestige amongst the Turkic nations of Central Asia, such as Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, and Mongolia. In 2018, the main act at the Opening Ceremony was the German 70s band Ghengis Khan, probably best known for their hit song Moscow. I think it’s more likely that it will be some sort of traditional Ottoman ensemble this time around.
Wherever the event is held, it’s a chance to display little known sports and traditions to a much wider audience, giving these part time athletes their rare moments of glory. However we will still mourn the fact it’s no longer being held in Kyrgyzstan, and remember that if it wasn’t for them this event would have never existed.