Buzkashi: The sport banned by the Taliban

Buzkashi is a relentless and violent sport that can last for hours, or days, and while there are written rules for Buzkashi, they are seldom followed. The riders whipping their horses and opponents alike with debilitating injuries often sustained are all part of the game. Trampling is common, the one ton animal’s hooves falling like anvils upon the fallen riders and sometimes spectators. It was once banned by the Taliban.

Imagine if the NFL had no sidelines for out of bounds, the object of the game only being to get that football across the goal line no matter what. There are little to no bleachers or stands to watch the game either, the crowd gathers loosely around the action, occasionally getting too close.

If a 250 pound linebacker came charging at you at fifteen miles per hour and landed on your lap, it would be far from pleasant. Bones would most likely get broken.

Now imagine that the linebacker weighs around one ton and he’s not chasing a pigskin football, but rather a headless goat carcass. The one ton animal has a muscular rider, determined to score. The duo is careened off their intended path, tripped up, and ends up plowing into the crowd. Welcome to Buzkashi.

The Horses and Riders

The sport has roots that date back to the 10th century Mongols. It was a game that was supposed to entertain the King, sometimes lasting for days, and often used the body of a slain opponent. The horses and riders then were warriors, born and bred for destruction.

Today, the horses are specifically bred for Buzkashi, most often by wealthy business men and land owners. They take great pride in owning horses and hiring riders that take home goat and calf pelts as trophies.

The pelts are often proudly hung in the rafters of the stables, visitors are welcome to marvel at the amount, not unlike the banners hanging in the rafters at The Staples Center.

Riders have to be strong enough to ride, powerful enough to hold onto the goat, determined enough to take a beating from other riders, and completely fearless. Some of the best riders are in the forties, experienced horsemen who have mastered the art of riding.

You have to be able to control the beast underneath while maintaining your laser sharp focus. From afar it might look like rugby with horses, but it’s much more dangerous and destructive than that.

Buzkashi Banned by Taliban

Although there are several different forms of the sport played in several countries, it’s most popular form comes from Afghanistan, where it is the national sport. During the Taliban rule, Buzkashi was banned due to religious authoritarianism, and the sport suffered major drawbacks.

Since then, Buzkashi has started to thrive again. The wealthy, some who own the horses, put up money for each point scored, this is the only way for riders to earn money. The final score determines the winning team, to which more money is doled out to the team and each rider.

This is not always the case. In some instances no money is exchanged and it is merely for bragging rights and a showcase to the community of the most fearless and determined horsemen. It is also a chance for the horse breeders and owners to showcase their work as well.

What’s up with the Headless Goat?

Goat hides are tough and can take a serious beating. They soak the headless goat carcass overnight in water in order to make it even tougher. Sometimes a calf is used, because it tends to be slightly tougher than a goat, but it is not always available.

Buzkashi loosely translates into “goat pulling”.

Sand is sometimes used to weigh the goat or calf down more, packing the sand into the open cavity to make it even more difficult. Victory creates a general braggadocio that claims victory in both hierarchal breeding and stalwart effort.

To the Westerner this sport seems completely outrageous, even barbaric. But to an Easterner so does American Football, a sport that relies on humans bashing their heads together for a pig bladder filled with air, covered in cow skin, over a small piece of real estate.


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