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.