In perhaps the craziest invention in sports since Aztec Death Soccer, several Central Asian countries host a traditional sport to rival the most dangerous and unregulated competition since match-fixing in the Serie A.
Kopkari is popular through much of the horse-loving region of Central Asia, but I finally came across a match at the Toprak Qala in Uzbek Khorezm.
The rules are pretty simple, and revolve around a decapitated goat carcass that acts as the ‘ball’. To score, riders from each team must attempt to take the carcass to the end of the field and drop it onto their own goal.
Easy enough in a vacuum, this apparently gets a lot harder as 30 or 40 other dudes on horses swarm around the carcass-bearer to protect or assault him as team allegiances dictate.
As if this weren’t enough, the crowds inevitably become an active part of the game as it progresses. When one team scores, fans rush the field to slap high five or give horseback hugs.
When well behaved, the crowd stands atop an earthen bank surrounding the field. As little as this does to stop the crowd rushing the field, it does even less to keep the horses from leaving the playing area. With some regularity as the riders approached the crowd-side goal area at least a handful would charge up the hill and into the crowd of people. No pictures of this, unfortunately, as I was legitimately running for my own safety every time it happened.
Towards the end of the match, the players got so caught up in the game that it actually extended into the stadium’s parking lot about half a mile away. By the time the riders (and goat) made it back to the stadium area proper, the organizers had had enough and ended the contest.
Afterwards, of course, horse poo everywhere. Watch your step!