Wrestlers Threaten Boycott of Kırkpınar Over Controversial Format Changes

After the federation governing Kırkpınar announced a controversial qualifying format to streamline the competition, 29 wrestlers said they would not participate.
By Daniel Dawson
Jun. 25, 2024 22:51 UTC

Controversy has engulfed Turkey’s Kırkpınar olive oil wrestling fes­ti­val slightly more than one week before the 663rd edi­tion kicks off on July 5th.

One day after the Turkish Traditional Wrestling Federation announced a new league-style qual­i­fy­ing for­mat, 29 wrestlers planned to boy­cott the qual­i­fy­ing round.

Among the wrestlers is Cengizhan Şimşek, who won the 661st Kırkpınar in 2021, and Hamza Köseoğlu, a semi-final­ist in 2019.

We, as the top wrestlers, announce that we will not par­tic­i­pate in the pre­lim­i­nary matches sched­uled for Thursday in protest of the unfair qual­i­fy­ing sys­tem imposed by the Turkish Traditional Wrestling Federation,” the wrestlers wrote on social media.

See Also:Traditional Turkish Olive Cultivation Practices Recognized by UNESCO

Despite our efforts to con­vey the injus­tice of the sys­tem, which requires wrestlers to fin­ish in the top eight of the league after three rounds to qual­ify for Kırkpınar, no cor­rec­tive action has been taken,” they added. We declare that we will not wres­tle on Thursday [July 4th], and we express our desire for a united front among all wrestlers to boy­cott the pre­lim­i­nar­ies.”

We also inform the pub­lic that we have filed law­suits against the rel­e­vant author­i­ties to chal­lenge the new rules and empha­size that we only wish to wres­tle,” the state­ment con­tin­ued.

After a record-high 3,500 wrestlers par­tic­i­pated in last year’s Kırkpınar, the Turkish Traditional Wrestling Federation said the seven-stage qual­i­fy­ing for­mat was nec­es­sary for the com­pe­ti­tion to be com­pleted in a sin­gle week­end.

We wanted Kırkpınar to be a place that deserves it,” Ibrahim Türkiş, pres­i­dent of the Turkish Traditional Wrestling Federation, told Anadolu Agency. If we had­n’t changed the rules, 5,000 peo­ple would have come to wres­tle at Kırkpınar this year.”

According to local media, the top 32 wrestlers in the league points table auto­mat­i­cally qual­ify for Kırkpınar and are divided into four groups depend­ing on how many points they earned. Meanwhile, eight wrestlers join them through the pre­lim­i­nary rounds.

In the first round, the eight wrestlers from the pre­lim­i­nary round com­pete against the eight wrestlers from the fourth group. The win­ners of this group form the fourth group in the sec­ond round.

Reigning cham­pion Yusuf Can Zeybek, two-time win­ner Orhan Okulu, four-time vic­tor Ali Gürbüz and 2017 cham­pion Ismail Balaban were among the wrestlers who qual­i­fied directly for the event.

Türkiş said the league-style qual­i­fy­ing for­mat would result in plenty of excit­ing matches for fans to watch ahead of Kırkpınar and add to the even­t’s pres­tige on the inter­na­tional stage.

Our goal with the league for­mat was to moti­vate the ath­letes, make wrestling out­side Kırkpınar more active and ensure the long-term sus­tain­abil­ity of wrestling,” he said. Thanks to the league, we have gained matches that are almost as good as Kırkpınar.”

According to leg­end, Kırkpınar dates back to 1357 when a group of Ottoman sol­diers stopped near Erdine. To pass the time, 40 sol­diers began wrest­ing in pairs. Long after the rest had stopped, the final two con­tin­ued into the night and were both found dead the next morn­ing.

While there was no win­ner that year, the event has occurred every July since, except in 2020, when the tour­na­ment was can­celed due to the COVID-19 pan­demic.

During the olive oil wrestling event, con­tes­tants grap­ple in pairs on a grassy field until one wrestler suc­cess­fully knocks his oppo­nent onto his back.

The wrestlers, wear­ing only a kıspet – the short, leather pants – are doused in olive oil, which many have said makes it very dif­fi­cult for their oppo­nents to get a grip on them and anec­do­tally reduces the pain caused by their injuries. An esti­mated two tons of olive oil are used dur­ing the event.

The win­ner of Kırkpınar claims the title of başpehli­van, chief wrestler, wins the competition’s pres­ti­gious golden belt and a cash prize, which was 1 mil­lion Turkish lira (€35,000), last year.


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