The 20 Most Dangerous Sports and Games From History
The 20 Most Dangerous Sports and Games From History

The 20 Most Dangerous Sports and Games From History

Shannon Quinn - December 21, 2020

The 20 Most Dangerous Sports and Games From History
Buzkashi translates to “goat pulling” in Persian. Credit: Culture Trip

3. Buzkashi

Buzkashi originated due to the fact that goal stealing was once a common occurrence in Afghanistan. Retrieving your goat back and horseback was difficult, but a huge triumph. Somewhere along the way, people turned this into a sport. For the past 600 years, Buzkashi has been the national sport of Afghanistan. This game is a very fast and intense sport played on horseback. But instead of tossing a ball around, players fight over a dead goat carcass. Players have to grab the goat from one another, and try to throw the body onto a giant hole.

Since the goat can weigh up to 90 pounds, this isn’t an easy task. Many players fall off of their horse even attempting to ride with the goat, let alone tossing it over the goal. This is an incredibly dangerous sport, and can lead to broken limbs or even death. Once the match is finished, the goat is roasted and eaten as a feast by the winning team. One might argue that a goat isn’t worth risking your life, but people in Afghanistan sure do love this game.

The 20 Most Dangerous Sports and Games From History
Two men playing Pasola. Credit: Wikimedia Commons

2. Pasola

Pasola is a competition on the island of Sumba, Indonesia. The opponents ride on horseback and throw wooden spears at one another. Rather than being hostile, this is in celebration of the rice planting season. This game all started from an ancient legend. In the village of Waiwuang, a husband left the village for so long, his wife assumed he must be dead. When her husband finally came back, his wife had already married someone else. Everyone in the village felt sorry for the man, so they threw the Pasola festival to cheer him up.

Now, the festival is still celebrated every year. The game ends once the first blood is drawn. It’s believed that this will appease the ancestors to give them a good growing season. In ancient times it was considered an honor if you died during a pasola match. Today, people are rarely killed or seriously hurt.

The 20 Most Dangerous Sports and Games From History
Tug of war found its origins from the Vikings. Credit: Shutterstock

1. Viking Skin Pulling

With a name like “skin pulling”, it’s hard not to cringe at the sound of it. However, Viking Skin Pulling was nearly identical to our modern game of tug-of-war. But much like other things in ancient culture, they took the idea to the extreme. And adhered to some of the stereotypes that Vikings are known for… such as defiling women.

But instead of rope in a grassy field, the Vikings pulled on animal skins over a fire pit. The winners of the game could take more (if not all) of the spoils of the town they had just attacked. This also included choosing which women they could defile first. The losers often fell into the fire, and died soon after. There is a good chance that today, tug of war was adapted from this tradition to be more safe and accessible to people. Believe it or not, people actually have died and lost limbs from playing tug-of-war, too. So always be careful!

Where do we find this stuff? Here are our sources:

25 Most Intense Sports of the Ancient World. Jason. List 25. 2021

Venationes. The University of Chicago.

Pankration: Violence, Glory and Death at the Ancient Olympic Games. Unpolished History. 2019.

Indonesia’s Ancient Pasola Festival. Gembong Nusantara. The Diplomat. 2014.

Buzkashi: Afghanistan’s Goat-Grabbing National Sport. Luke Bradshaw. Culture Trip. 2017.