World's Oldest Sporting Event Delayed Due to Covid Concerns

The centuries-old Kırkpınar olive oil wrestling championship will reportedly not go ahead until the end of summer or autumn. The decision was made by the event organizers after consulting with Turkey’s Ministry of Health.
Wresters enter the arena ready for battle at the Kirkpinar Turkish Oi Wrestling Festival, Edirne, Turkey.
Jul. 9, 2020
Daniel Dawson

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The world’s old­est sport­ing event has been post­poned due to the COVID-19 pan­demic, the Turk­ish daily, Hur­riyet, reported.

The 659th edi­tion of the Kırkpı­nar olive oil wrestling cham­pi­onship will not take place for at least two more months. The event was sched­uled for the first week of July.

In line with the opin­ion of the sci­en­tific com­mit­tee [of the Min­istry of Health], we can plan the wrestling for Sep­tem­ber,” Recep Gürkan, the mayor of Erdine, the town in which the com­pe­ti­tion is held, said orga­niz­ers in a recent con­fer­ence call.

See more: Kirkpinar Cov­er­age

Like in much of the rest of the world, the pan­demic has dis­rupted nor­mal life in Turkey. While the spread of the virus is con­sid­er­ably lower than it was at its peak, the coun­try is still aver­ag­ing more than 1,000 new cases each day and has suf­fered a death toll of more than 5,000.

Kırkpınar’s orga­niz­ers also acknowl­edged that when the event returned, it would be quite dif­fer­ent.


Wrestlers who will par­tic­i­pate in Kırkpı­nar will be tested,” Musa Aydın, the pres­i­dent of the Turk­ish Wrestling Fed­er­a­tion, said. “[After­wards] there will be no inter­fer­ence from out­side, there will be no entrance or exit. A few thou­sand peo­ple will be together in this camp.”

Aydın added that this could change depend­ing on the sit­u­a­tion, but all mea­sures being taken were in line with Min­istry of Health’s guide­lines.

The lack of spec­ta­tors will be dis­ap­point­ing for the event orga­niz­ers and wrestlers, as Kırkpınar’s pop­u­lar­ity had been grow­ing in recent years.

Record-break­ing crowds showed up to watch Ali Gür­büz claim his third title last year.

The 659th edi­tion of the Kırkpı­nar was also set to be a cel­e­bra­tory one: 10 years since the com­pe­ti­tion was rec­og­nized as a UNESCO Intan­gi­ble Cul­tural Her­itage event.

Each year, thou­sands of con­tes­tants show up in the north­west­ern city of Erdine to com­pete for the the title of başpehli­van — or head wrestler — and the nearly-$10,000 prize.

Wear­ing only a kıspet — the short, leather pants after which the event is named — and drenched in olive oil, par­tic­i­pants wres­tle in pairs for a week until only one man is left stand­ing.

It is esti­mated that about two tons of olive oil is used each year dur­ing the event.


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