When I first booked the holiday to Istanbul, I had a look on the Turkish tourist board website to see if anything was going on while I was there, and found that my visit coincided with the annual Kirkpinar oil wrestling festival in Edirne, a couple of hours away from Istanbul.
Intrigued, I tried to find more info online, but there was very little available. I found this surprising – these days, you expect to be able to find anything on the internet. To find almost nothing about one of the oldest sporting events in the world was odd, to say the least. But ultimately I wasn’t all that bothered, so gave up.
One night while we were out in Istanbul, we got chatting to another group of tourists from Finland, who it had come over partly for the festival. It turned out one of them was an expat Turk, so I mentioned the difficulty I’d had in finding information, and he explained that the reason there was so little available in English was that in recent years the event had been attracting increasing numbers of western gay tourists. So the organisers apparently decided to stop promoting it to (English-speaking) tourists – which is quite a step when the event in question is apparently the oldest continuously held annual sporting event in the world (this year was the 647th).
I find it amazing – surely even without the presence of large numbers of drooling bears, the locals must have noticed the spectacle of large hairy men covering themselves in olive oil and shoving their hands down each others tight leather shorts as they grapple with each other on the ground was a tad homo-erotic?
I also find it sad – obviously Turkey is a more conservative country than the UK, and I understand that an influx of gay visitors may make some people uncomfortable – but the fact that they’ve now stopped publicising such a historic event means people are missing out.
Anyway, here’s a not-at-all gratuitous shot of this year’s tournament I snapped from this year’s TV coverage:
Any sport fans reading may be interested in these far better shots of this year’s festival, from Flickr.