It’s called yağlı güreş in Turkish, which means Oil wrestling. Some might think the sight of a bunch of oiled dudes wrestling caught up in sweat and testosterone might be disgusting, but this sport actually dates back even before the 10th century. That’s why it deserves a bit of respect.
The Turkish word for wrestling comes from the old Oghuz Turkic languages, and the current tradition of wrestling with special leather clothing comes from the aftermath of the Seljuk conquest of Anatolia, which popularized the karakucak freestyle wrestling. These special leather clothings worn by competitors are called kisbets. They are essentially leather breeches.
In this type of wrestling, people pour olive oil on their bodies to make it harder for the wrestler to grip one’s opponent. This style remained until this day, and is known as Turkish oil wrestling or yağlı güreş.
As the tradition goes, Wrestlers oil one another prior to matches, as a demonstration of balance and mutual respect. Some readers might even be imagining how weird that looks at this moment. Also, if a man defeats an older opponent, he has to kiss the latter’s hand, as that is a show of respect for elders in Turkey.
One of the most famous of the Oil wrestling games in Turkey is the Kırkpınar Games, which is the world’s oldest continually sanctioned sporting competition. It is hosted in the city of Edirne, and the games only got cancelled 70 times over the course of 652 years.
Interestingly enough, there are some oil wrestling competitions outside of Turkey. For example, the Royal Dutch Power Sport Federation organises oil wrestling competitions in the Netherlands. If you are Dutch, you could check that out!
So, next time you see half naked men soaked in oil, wrestling with leather breeches, don’t be in doubt and double check if it’s one of the oldest Turkish traditions that still exists to this day! If it’s not, then you can start running.