Register Monday | June 17 | 2019

Dead Goat Polo

A short introduction to buzkashi, Afghanistan’s national sport

First, take a headless calf or goat. Gut the creature, remove its legs at the knee and, for additional girth, stuff it with sand. Then toughen the carcass by soaking it in cold water for twenty-four hours. Collect two teams of horses and riders. Draw a circle on the ground and place the goat inside. You are now ready to play Afghanistan's national sport, buzkashi.

Points are doled out to a team when it carries the carcass around a distant pole and then returns it to the hallal ("circle of justice" in the Turkmen language). The opposing team must do whatever it can to reclaim the corpse, from blocking a horse's path to cracking whips over the goat-addled rider. The winners are celebrated with donations from a wealthy sponsor. Prizes can include money, turbans, designer clothes, even guns

Named after the Dari term for "goat-grabbing," buzkashi (pronounced "boos-kah-shee") is thought to have originated in the time of Genghis Khan. Back then-the early thirteenth century-Turkic-Mongol people played the game in huge grassy areas; now, modern regulations keep the fields small enough for people to watch. The all-male audience (women are traditionally excluded from both playing and watching, although some have been spotted observing the game from nearby rooftops) is even invited to contribute to the game by handing money to the horsemen who score points.

To the uninitiated, the game may seem like utter mayhem, but buzkashi is a punishing and procedural sport. Broken bones are common, and both the men and their horses must go through years of rigorous preparation before competing. Only the best animals are chosen for the requisite five years of training; the men are expert riders who are revered for their skills. As consistently fierce as it is beautiful, buzkashi is a uniquely Afghan game.