12th November 2018
Although I was no stranger to the country, given this was only the third time this unique event was being held and as such, very much still evolving, so much so that even some of the officials were not quite sure of how the events would be played out, I was filled with excitement and a certain amount of anticipation.
For the nomads of Central Asia, sports were a matter of survival – games handed down over thousands of years were a way to teach generations of nomads how to hunt, think, and fight in the face of harsh landscapes and warring tribes. Many of these ancient skills lost their importance over the last two centuries as modern development swept through Eurasia. But traditional games are once again seeing a resurgence in popularity thanks to new events such as the World Nomad Games, the only international event of its kind dedicated exclusively to nomadic sports
Dubbed the “Olympics of the Nomads,” the games feature more than 16 sports spread out over an intense six-day period, with competitions ranging from traditional horse games and wrestling, to archery and strategic mind games.
2018 saw 60 countries competing including the UK who were represented by 3 fine Scotsmen with their caber and supporting pipers and drummers –a rather surreal sight amongst a back drop of yurts and camels!
No sooner had we arrived at our hotel in Issykul we were to return to our minibuses in order to make our way to the opening ceremony, which although only ten minutes away and was due to start 4 hours later, was nevertheless a drive away and posed a risk getting stuck in an unknown quantity of traffic – so better to be safe!
Flags were flying and horns were tooted all along the road and on arrival we were suddenly plunged into a seething mass of people from all walks of life dressed in an amazing array of costumes representing their respective countries. Goodie bags thrust into our hands; we donned our “Nomad Games” caps and set forth to find our seats!
Sitting cheek by jowl with competitors, trainers and referees alike, we sat eating our picnic supper whilst we waited in anticipation;
The stage was set –a large open area the size of a football pitch with what looked like a rather plain uneventful back drop – the sky was darkening and the opening ceremony was about to begin; then suddenly exactly on the hour there was a flash of light and the “plain uneventful” scene came alive with music and colour; hundreds of dancers were performed in perfect synchronicity, magical lighting created an array of different scenes and images which then lit up the sky.
Fantastic fireworks dazzled us for what seemed like hours and after 1.5 hours of many ooh’s and ahh’s the competitors paraded the circuit, with countries from all over the world, all dressed in traditional costumes with Falconers from Dubai, wrestlers from Korea, archers from Hungary and of course Kyrgyzstan’s very own talented horsemen, we were certainly amongst some of the best nomadic sportsmen in the world.
At the end of the night, teams from 62 nations made their appearance. The biggest teams were from India and Kazakhstan, and one-man teams hailing from Botswana, Democratic Republic of Congo and Zimbabwe. As the ceremony drew to a close, spectacular fireworks lit up the sky in different colors. Excitement was injected into the air.
Finally, after a speech from President Sooronbay Jeenbekov, it was time to leave the area, still buzzing from the evenings sights and sounds, we headed back the comfort of our hotel and went to bed more excited than ever as to what the following day might bring.