Skip to main content

The Spirit of Sport: Obscure Pastimes

  • Story Highlights
  • "Rock, Paper, Scissors" is now a $50,000 spectator sport
  • Extreme Ironing -- on cliffs, up trees and underwater -- has proved a YouTube hit
  • Musical Whistling has strict rules, demands dexterity of lips and breath
  • Buzkashi sees horsemen play polo-type game with carcass instead of ball
  • Next Article in World »
By Brigid Delaney
Decrease font Decrease font
Enlarge font Enlarge font

Always last to be picked for the team? Couldn't catch a ball if your life depended on it? Got coordination skills that make you a laughing stock?

Afghans on horseback playing Bukashi in Kabul

Afghans playing Bukashi in Kabul

Maybe you've been picking the wrong sports: tennis, soccer, football and baseball don't suit everyone's talents.

If you suspect you may be sporty but haven't found your niche, you should consider some lesser known competitions.

Rock, paper, scissors

It's the sport anyone with hands can play: no particular level of fitness or years of training required. Rock, paper, scissors is a game most kids played in the school yard -- and it now has its own league.

In 2007, the Bud Light USA Rock Paper Scissors League National Championship was broadcast on television, with a top prize of $50,000.

The main skill is mental, say players, comparing it to poker where the ability to "read" your opponent and anticipate his next move is highly prized.

But Matti Leshem, co-commissioner of the USA Rock Paper Scissors League, has said it's also important to be fit: "There are different styles of play. It gets quite energetic. A lot of power goes into it. The mental drain of it has a toll on the body." There are also injuries: "People dislocate shoulders or sprain wrists."

Extreme ironing

Web site calls it "the latest danger sport that combines the thrills of an extreme outdoor activity with the satisfaction of a well pressed shirt."

Extreme Ironing takes the loathsome domestic task of ironing into "extreme" locations: cliff tops, rock faces, up trees, in crowed public places and underwater. Ironing boards, irons and creased clothes are the only equipment you'll need. Arm pads to prevent iron burns are optional.

Organizers of a 2002 Extreme Ironing championship in Munich described it as "a sport which combines the danger and the spirit of an extreme sport with boring housework you have to do. By Extreme Ironing the sportsman gets a great fitness and he is always looking smart."

Ironing greats need to not only master the tough environments but also show creativity and flair in their ironing skills, get all the creases out and do it in record time.

Extreme Ironing has been a surprise hit on YouTube where competitors show off their skills on the beach, up trees and up a mountain.

Go on -- experiment with Extreme Ironing and make Mom proud.

Musical Whistling

This is a sport that requires a special sort of dexterity: your lips and breath.

Sorting out the champions from the amateurs, the International Whistlers Convention held in North Carolina has categories in classical and popular tune whistling, either accompanied or solo.

But there are strict rules: "Medleys combining more than one song will not be allowed. Time should be as brief as possible and not longer than six minutes for classical selections, or four minutes for popular selections, or five minutes for hand whistling," state the guidelines.

Winners are judged on performance, originality, "embellishments" and the quality of whistling.

The good thing about this sport is that you can practices whilst doing other tasks: whistle while you walk, while you work, while you Extreme Iron ...


Oh golly -- this is one weird sport we won't be trying. Buzkashi is a Central Asian sport involving horses, animal carcasses and whips.

Buzkashi has been likened to polo, but instead of a ball, the headless carcass of an animal -- usually a headless goat or calf -- is used. The aim is to grab it off the ground while riding and then get it clear of the other players and pitch it across a goal line or into a vat. Play can last for several days.


It's important during the game that the carcass doesn't disintegrate, so the calf is normally beheaded, disemboweled, has its limbs cut off at the knees and is soaked in cold water for 24 hours before play to toughen it. Occasionally, sand is packed into the carcass to give it extra weight.

Special horses are trained for the event so they don't trample the riders, should they be thrown, and gallop at speed towards the goal line when the rider collects the carcass. E-mail to a friend E-mail to a friend

  • E-mail
  • Save
  • Print