After a year-long hiatus caused by a pandemic, the sounds of the zurna flute and beating drums once again greeted thousands of Turkish wrestling fans who returned to the northwest of the country for an oil wrestling championship 600 years old.
Last year’s competition was canceled due to the coronavirus pandemic. But spectators have flocked to Greece’s border province of Edirne over the weekend to watch a sport that dates back to the 14th century.
For three days, competitors dressed in leather pants known as ‘kispet’ and generously sprayed with olive oil struggled to win the title of Baspehlivani, or chief wrestler, the equivalent of the world champion sport.
This year’s tournament, the 660th held, saw Ali Gurbuz from the Mediterranean province of Antalya retain his title after a 48-minute fight with Ismail Koc from Ankara in the grassy square.
The triumphant fighter was held aloft on the shoulders of fans for the crowd to recognize his achievement as the zurna flute and drums played. This is Gurbuz’s fourth “golden belt” after his victories in 2011, 2012 and 2019.
“I’m so happy,” Gurbuz said after his victory. “There was no wrestling in 2020 because of the pandemic. I became the head wrestler in 2021. I hope to be the head wrestler next year and be the eternal owner of the gold belt.
Around 3,000 wrestlers took part in this year’s tournament on a pitch from Sarayici to Edirne.
Edirne Mayor Recep Gurkan said championship organizers have followed all health guidelines and restrictions to protect fans and wrestlers as much as possible from the spread of COVID-19.
“Of course, wrestling with oil has its own disciplines, traditions, customs and traditions,” Gurkan said. “By the will of God, we will complete the 660th Kirkpinar Oil Wrestling on this day and perform all the rituals one by one, without skipping any.”
Event master Seyfettin Selim said the wrestlers’ one-year hiatus affected their fitness level, but the tournament helped them get back into shape.
“These wrestlers haven’t wrestled for a year and we saw them here, some passed out, others lost their breath,” Selim said. “This year we have closed the gap. Hopefully it will be better next year.
The festival, one of the oldest wrestling events in the world, was declared an intangible cultural heritage by UNESCO in 2010.