I love sports and growing up, I played many of them. Whether it was football, rugby, basketball – I enjoyed the thrill of being able play in controlled chaos. But even on the field, pitch, or court I knew that I was never in any real danger. But what if I combined polo, rugby, and field hockey into one sport – all while giving it an agricultural twist? I wanted to touch on a sport that I discovered quite recently that I don’t think that I would ever have the balls to play. In a land far far away – Afghanistan and Central Asia there is a sport that requires teams of mounted horsemen, dragging a headless goat carcass into an endzone. This sport, is called Buzkashi and it is the third topic of this AAPI History Month blog series.
I came across this sport when I was watching one of my favourite internet personalities, the Wonton Don. He does a series where he travels to unknown destinations unique to the west and learns of the culture as he embraces what that community has to offer. Whether it be in food, booze, or sports – he is always down to learn what’s next. For one installment in his series he travels to the Central Asian country of Tajikistan where he for the first time in his life encountered the game of Buzkashi. Not only filming and recording from the sideline but literally getting on the field as a journalist in what seemed like a pickup game.
What I saw was what seemed like a hundred horsemen chasing after a dead headless goat on a field of mud. Horses and men galivanting, beating each other up, holding each other back – all for the sake of that damn goat. As mentioned earlier, this looked like a pickup game and I did a little more research and learned that this sport actually has a professional scene. Professional players like Aziz Ahmad are sponsored by wealthy Afghanis in order to play the game that they thrive in. Ahmad himself is not only the GOAT of Buzkashi but has quite the past to him. Imagine if Michael Jordan played Buzkashi except instead of retiring multiple times, he left to fight wars and join extremist religious groups.
The sport had originally started in the 10th century, when nomadic Asian farmers and tribes would sweep across China and Mongolia. Apparently it came from farmers stealing goats from each other and one day saying “Oh this shit kinda bussin'”. It is a historical sport, one that has its roots in a forgotten era. An era where men were men and would be hard as fuck – unlike NBA and NFL superstars who use anonymous Twitter accounts to talk shit (I jest, but also I don’t). The sport is mostly played in Central Asia, where different variations are played in Afghanistan, Tajikistan, and Kyrgyzstan. Believe it or not, a member of the Afghan royal family even tried to bring the sport to America, where instead of a dead goat, they used a ball. Which honestly, at that point only seems like polo or something? I don’t know, I think the goat really gives the game its edge.
In Afghanistan the sport was banned for awhile when the country was under Taliban rule as they believed that the game was immoral (yes the Taliban, the pillar of righteousness) but after 2001 when the Taliban lost their power, play resumed because you can’t take away our goat horse rugby game! When the Taliban reclaimed power in 2021, they allowed the continuation of Buzkashi because sports gambling is huge right now and you can use code ThoughtfulBear on Fanduel for a free $100 credit for your next bet (just kidding, but if this was the case I wouldn’t be shocked).
Now does this sport belong worldwide? I don’t know – probably not. I feel like PETA would have something to say about this. However as I don’t know how strong PETA is in Central Asia, I feel like Buzkashi can live on for another day. However I do think that we should probably stop talking about football, rugby, and hockey as wild games when Buzkashi literally exists. A sport where horsemen beat up on each other and their horses, tossing each other and a dead goat around like it is a bean bag, just something about that seems cancellable and actually really dangerous. But watching Buzkashi also sounds like it’s a lot more fun than me waking up on a Saturday morning to watch a nil-nil soccer game in the EPL or having witness Chelsea lose a 2-0 lead to Wolverhampton. Soccer is boring, maybe Buzkashi should be the sport of the Earth.