The world’s weirdest sport events

Every year, our attention turns to major sporting events — but thanks to high ticket prices, inflated accommodations costs and pricey airfares, most people will only get to see them on a television screen.

Enter local events and lesser-known sports. Not only are they a chance to catch some action and culture, they can even make a difference too. If you’re looking for something a little extraordinary this year, check out these unusual sports events from Lonely Planet’s A Year of Sport Travel.

Nude Olympics

If the idea sounds shocking, remember the first Olympians in Greece competed in the buff. Every year, naturalists gather to test their skill in competitions at the Nude Olympics. While the popular games as Maslin Beach have been cancelled in recent years, you’ll still find the tradition going strong in March at Alexandria Bay Noosa. In addition to games like tug of war, flag races and discus throwing, there are some cheeky events too like the “best behind” competition.

Anyone is welcome to participate (sunscreen is highly recommended) but the games aren’t about exhibitionism. They’re about gathering to have fun and be close to nature. Local groups also host other events where clothing is optional, such as the World Naked Bike Ride and World Naked Gardening Day. (Visit the Australian Nudist Federation website for information about this and other events.)

National Penny Farthing Championships

Can’t make the Tour de France? Modern bicycles are overrated anyway. With their Victorian charm and enormous front wheels, penny farthings offer an even bigger challenge than a standard bike. Part of the annual Evandale Fair, this event is the largest of its kind in the world and brings in enthusiasts from across the globe. There are races to entertain the crowds all day long including the Century Ride — aptly named for its 100-mile course.

If you happen to be in Tasmania, this fair and races are be held every year near the end of February. For more information, visit the Evandale Village Fair website.

Cycle-ball World Cup Final

Never heard of this sport? Picture soccer combined with artistic cycling – a sort where athletes perform tricks on their bikes in front of judges. It takes some serious skill to get a goal because players have to use the front wheel of the bike to manoeuvre the ball. It’s a fast-paced game played by two teams of two, and each player takes a turn at the goal.

Want to get in on the action? Round robin qualifying matches take place throughout the year among the ten member countries (many in Europe), and the finale is held around the middle of March (last year’s was in Germany). Visit the Union Cycliste Internationale website for details.


Amputee African Cup of Nations

War may have taken a toll on their bodies, but it hasn’t stopped these athletes from pursuing their dreams of respect and recognition on the playing field — not to mention raising awareness and improving relationships among countries like Ghana, Sierra Leone, Nigeria and Liberia. World Cup matches are held in April, and most of the host countries are open to international travellers. In 2012, the championship was moved to October when Russia stepped up to host the games after another country was unable to offer them.

If you’re not planning a trip to Africa any time soon, there are now Amputee Football (soccer) leagues throughout Europe and the Americas too. For more information, visit the World Amputee Football website.

Bay to Breakers

Despite holding the world record for the largest running race, it’s not your usual event. Every May, more than 100,000 spectators line San Francisco’s streets to watch that same number of participants make the 12 km run from the Embarcadero to Golden Gate Park.

Naturally, the event draws amateur runners, professional athletes and people running for charity — but the atmosphere is more carnival than marathon. The colourful floats are matched only by the elaborate costumes of many of the runners. You’ll also catch a glimpse of the World Centipede Championships where 13 runners tie themselves together for the race. (For more information, visit

Giostra Della Quintana

Twice a year in June and September, the town of Foligno, Italy goes back to its 15th century roots for this traditional spectacle. The main event involves knights on horseback using lances to capture rings from the Quintana (a statue). Each round, the rings get smaller — and the knight who completes the course in the shortest amount of time wins.

In true Italian style, the event is more than just the competition. Renaissance costumes, food, parades and other festivities are all part of the package. (Visit the official festival website for details.)

Wife-carrying Championships

Who says men and women can’t enjoy sports together? This annual July event involves husbands carrying their wives through a challenging 253 metre course, and, like every relationship, it has obstacles to overcome. There are prizes for the winners, but the main goals are for couples to reconnect and for participants and audience members alike to enjoy a good laugh.

Anyone can enter this annual competition in Sonkajärvi, Finland, though similar events are popping up around the world. The event website even has tips for would-be participants.


Henley-on-Todd Regatta

The fact that there’s little or no water in Alice Springs doesn’t stop this Australian desert town from holding its own regatta every August. How do they do it? The boats have no bottoms, and they’re manned by crews of barefooted runners. (The Flintstones would be proud.) There are events for yachts, row boats, kayaks and bathtubs — not to mention sand-skiing, sand-surfing and sand-shovelling contests as well.

Anyone can enter this family-friendly event, and proceeds go to local humanitarian charities. For more information, visit the Henley-on-Todd Regatta website.

Homeless World Cup

The idea may sound tacky at first, but this international football (soccer) tournament raises awareness about the millions of homeless and displaced people worldwide — and it changes the lives of participants. Any level of experience is welcome, but to qualify players must be homeless (or were homeless in the past year) or currently seeking asylum. In 2012, the games will be held in Mexico City this October.

Does it work? According to research conducted after the 2007 games, the majority of players reported a positive impact on their lives that lasted far longer than the games. Many participants go on to find jobs, get an education, improve their relationships, get help for drug or alcohol issues and find homes. Of course, the majority continue to play football too! (For more information, visit Homeless World Cup website.)

World Rock Paper Scissors Championships

Hard to believe, but this popular game turned decision-maker has its own official organization, standardized rules and international competitions — thanks in part to Canadians. The World Rock Paper Scissors Society is based in Toronto, and has held a few championship tournaments. Competitions have also popped up around the world, including in the UK and US.

According to enthusiasts, the game isn’t as simple as you might think. There are patterns in the seemingly random choices, and some people even believe it’s possible to predict your opponent’s move based on human psychology. Players even attempt to throw off their opponents with garish dress and brightly coloured costumes. (Visit the World RPS Society website for more information.)

World Chess Boxing Championships

If there was an “Odd Couple” in the world of sports, this game would be it. Each round starts on a “civilized” note with a four-minute session of speed chess. Then, after a one-minute break, players don their gloves and duke it out in the boxing ring for three minutes. The sport requires a mix of brains and brawn as players have to be masters of both disciplines.

Local events and matches take place around the world, and championship matches are held three or four times each year, rotating through different countries. For more information, visit the World Chess Boxing Organization website.

Of course, these events are just a small selection of the many events that are out there. You don’t have to travel half way around the world — see what’s going on in your area instead. There are events to suit any preference, ability and level of involvement as well.

Updated July 2012 with new information and dates.