9 Odd Sporting Events from Around the World

By: the Editors of Publications International, Ltd.

La Tomatina is a Spanish festival where participants pelt each other with overripe tomatoes. See more sport pictures.
Publications International, Ltd.

When it comes to sports, if it involves a ball or a club, men will play it, and if it's on TV, men will watch it. Here are some of the most unusual sports from around the world.


1. Cheese Rolling

If you're a whiz at cheese rolling, you may want to head to Brockworth in Gloucestershire, England, at the annual Cooper's Hill Cheese Roll held each May. The ancient festival dates back hundreds of years and involves pushing and shoving a large, mellow, seven- to eight-pound wheel of ripe Gloucestershire cheese downhill in a race to the bottom. With the wheels of cheese reaching up to 70 miles per hour, runners chase, tumble, and slide down the hill after their cheese but don't usually catch up until the end. The winner gets to take home his or her cheese, while the runners-up get cash prizes.


2. Toe Wrestling

This little piggy went to the World Toe Wrestling Championship held annually in July in Derbyshire, England. Contestants sit facing each other at a "toedium" -- a stadium for toes -- and try to push each other's bare foot off a small stand called a "toesrack." Three-time champion Paul Beech calls himself the "Toeminator." Toe wrestling began in the town of Wetton in 1970, and the international sport is governed by the World Toe Wrestling Organization, which once applied for Olympic status but was rejected.


3. Tuna Throwing

Popular in Australia, tuna throwing requires contestants to whirl a frozen tuna around their heads with a rope and then fling it like an Olympic hammer thrower. Since 1998, the record holder has been former Olympic hammer thrower Sean Carlin, with a tuna toss of 122 feet. With $7,000 in prize money overall, the event is part of Tunarama, an annual festival held in late January in Port Lincoln, South Australia. Animal rights activists will be pleased to know that the tuna are spoiled fish that stores refused to sell.


4. Pooh Sticks

Christopher Robin knows that pooh sticks is not a hygiene problem but rather a game played with Winnie the Pooh. The game consists of finding a stick, dropping it into a river, and then seeing how long it takes to get to the finish line. There is even an annual World Pooh Sticks Championship held in mid-March in Oxfordshire, England. Individual event winners receive gold, silver, and bronze medals, and a team event has attracted competitors from Japan, Latvia, and the Czech Republic.

Yes, these are real sporting events. Keep reading . . . the most bizarre is yet to come.


5. Man Versus Horse Marathon

The Man Versus Horse Marathon is an annual race between humans and horse-and-rider teams held in early June in the Welsh town of Llanwrtyd Wells. The event started in 1980 when a pub keeper overheard two men debating which was faster in a long race -- man or horse. Slightly shorter than a traditional marathon, the 22-mile course is filled with many natural obstacles, and horses win nearly every year. But in 2004, Huw Lobb made history as the first runner to win the race (in 2 hours, 5 minutes, and 19 seconds), taking the £25,000 (about $47,500) prize, which was the accumulation of 25 yearly £1,000 prizes that had not been claimed. Apparently, the horse doesn't get to keep its winnings.


6. Bull Running

While bullfighting is popular in many countries, the sport of bull running -- which should really be called bull outrunning -- is pretty much owned by Pamplona, Spain. The event dates back to the 13th and 14th centuries as a combination of festivals honoring St. Fermin and bullfighting. Every morning for a week in July, the half-mile race is on between six bulls and hundreds of people. Most of the participants try to get as close to the bulls as possible, and many think it's good luck to touch one.


7. Tomato Tossing

Tomatoes aren't just for salads and sauce anymore. La Tomatina is a festival held in late August in the small town of Buñol, Spain, where approximately 30,000 people come from all over the world to pelt one another with nearly 140 tons of overripe tomatoes. The fruit fight dates back to the mid-1940s but was banned under Francisco Franco, then returned in the 1970s after his death. After two hours of tomato-tossing at La Tomatina, there are no winners or losers, only stains and sauce, and the cleanup begins.


8. Human Tower Building

If you enjoy watching cheerleaders form human pyramids, you'll love the castellers, people who compete to form giant human towers at festivals around Catalonia, Spain. Castellers form a solid foundation of packed bodies, linking arms and hands together in an intricate way that holds several tons and softens the fall in case the tower collapses, which is not uncommon. Up to eight more levels of people are built, each layer standing on the shoulders of the people below. The top levels are made up of children and when complete, the castell resembles a human Leaning Tower of Pisa.


9. Wife Carrying Championship

During the Wife Carrying Championship, held annually in Sonkajärvi, Finland, contestants carry a woman -- it needn't be their wife -- over an 832-foot course with various obstacles en route. Dropping the woman incurs a 15-second penalty, and the first team to reach the finish line receives the grand prize -- the weight of the "wife" in beer! This bizarre event traces its origins to the 19th century when a local gang of bandits commonly stole women from neighboring villages.

Helen Davies, Marjorie Dorfman, Mary Fons, Deborah Hawkins, Martin Hintz, Linnea Lundgren, David Priess, Julia Clark Robinson, Paul Seaburn, Heidi Stevens, and Steve Theunissen