World’s Oldest Sporting Event Delayed Due to Covid Concerns

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 Also: 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.

Reported by
Daniel Dawson