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The National Sport of Turkey is Oil Wrestling.

Oil Wrestling in Turkey is a cultural tradition, deeply rooted in history and celebrated through annual festivals.

To learn more about sports culture in Turkey, read our article about the most popular sports in Turkey.


#1 History of Oil Wrestling

  • 1200s: Originating during the Ottoman Empire, Oil Wrestling was performed by soldiers to demonstrate martial skill and strength.
  • 17th Century: The annual Kirkpinar Oil Wrestling Festival was established in 1640, making it the oldest sporting competition in the world.
  • 1923: The Turkish Republic was founded, and Oil Wrestling became a symbol of national heritage and cultural pride.
  • 1987: Oil Wrestling was included in the Turkish World Traditional Sports Games program, promoting the sport internationally.

#2 Culture and Traditions

Oil Wrestling has a significant role in Turkey’s cultural identity, with historical roots in Turkish lore and national heritage. It embodies the country’s physical prowess and community pride, attracting generations of enthusiasts, spectators, and participants.

A key festival associated with Oil Wrestling is the annual Kirkpinar Festival, held in Edirne, Turkey since 1640. This week-long event features music, dancing, and of course, the oil wrestling competition itself. The festival fosters a spirit of sportsmanship, camaraderie, and a celebration of Turkish culture.

Traditional pre-competition rituals include wrestlers praying alongside their masters, the pehlivanlar (master oil wrestlers), and wearing colorful kispet – leather trousers – as a symbol of respect. The ceremonial playing of the davul (Turkish drum) and zurna (wind instrument) builds excitement, signaling the start of the matches.

#3 How it Works: Rules, Gameplay and Equipment

📕 Rules & Gameplay

  • Objective: To win by gripping the opponent’s kispet, lifting and carrying them or pinning their back to the ground.
  • Oil: Wrestlers are coated in olive oil, making it difficult to maintain a steady grip.
  • Matches: Each bout has an unlimited time limit, with wrestlers continually competing until one is victorious. Championship matches at Kirkpinar have a 40-minute time limit.
  • Categories: Wrestlers are grouped into categories based on weight, age, and experience.

⚙️ Equipment & Gear

  • Kispet: Traditional leather trousers worn by wrestlers during competition.
  • Olive Oil: Used to coat wrestlers, making it difficult to grip one another.
  • Davul and Zurna: Turkish musical instruments played during competition ceremonies.
  • Towel: Used by wrestlers to wipe excess oil from their hands and face during matches.

#4 Modern Development of Oil Wrestling

Over time, Oil Wrestling has evolved and adapted to contemporary preferences and expectations. Today, it attracts participants from diverse backgrounds and upholds the traditional essence while incorporating modern practices. The sport has expanded beyond Turkey, gaining popularity in countries such as the Netherlands, where annual competitions are held.

Technological advancements also influence the sport, such as livestreaming competitions or using social media for domestic and international promotion. This increased connectivity allows a new generation of fans to engage with the sport’s rich heritage and cultural significance.

In recent decades, Oil Wrestling has experienced a resurgence in popularity. The fusion of traditional rituals and modern techniques has fostered a unique appeal, drawing increased spectators and competitors across Turkey and globally. This renewed interest ensures the preservation and continuation of Turkey’s national sport, strengthening its cultural identity for future generations.

#5 Oil Wrestling and the Olympics

Oil Wrestling has not yet been included as an official sport in the Olympic Games. However, efforts are being made to popularize and promote the sport on a more global scale, with its inclusion in international events like the Turkic World Traditional Sports Games and European championships.

Although not directly linked to the Olympics, the promotion of Oil Wrestling through these international events and platforms raises its global recognition. This helps to showcase the sport’s unique and culturally rich aspects, paving the way for potential inclusion in future Olympic competitions.

#6 Famous Athletes and Achievements

  1. Ahmet Taşçı: A prominent Turkish oil wrestler, Taşçı has won the prestigious Kirkpinar Festival title multiple times, earning the Başpehlivan (head wrestler) title for his achievements.
  2. Recep Kara: Another celebrated Başpehlivan, Kara has won the Kirkpinar Festival multiple times and has represented Turkey in various international oil wrestling competitions.
  3. Ismail Balaban: A young and talented oil wrestler, Balaban has won the title of Başpehlivan at other major oil wrestling competitions in Turkey and has represented the country in international events.
  4. Ali Gürbüz: Gürbüz has showcased his immense talent by securing the Başpehlivan title at the Kirkpinar Festival and representing Turkey at prestigious international competitions.

#7 Where to watch Oil Wrestling

  • TRT Spor: Turkey’s public broadcaster features coverage of national and international oil wrestling events, such as the annual Kirkpinar Festival.
  • Online Streaming: Some oil wrestling events are livestreamed on platforms like YouTube, enabling global audiences to enjoy the sport.
  • Live in Turkey: Experience the excitement of oil wrestling firsthand at events like the Kirkpinar Festival in Edirne, the Cumalı Kızık Festival in Bursa, and other regional competitions throughout the country.

Max is a sports enthusiast who loves all kinds of ball and water sports. He founded & runs stand-up-paddling.org (#1 German Paddleboarding Blog), played competitive Badminton and Mini Golf (competed on national level in Germany), started learning ‘real’ Golf and dabbled in dozens of other sports & activities.

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