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Arguably the most popular sport in Tibet
Gathering around a fire is common social activity in Tibet. Many foreigners find that being entertained by Tibetan nomads is a challenge. The smoke from a yak dung fire inside a Tibetan tent is so thick that it stings the eyes and causes one to cough. And although Westerners often find pungent-smelling yak butter tea to be a chore to get down, they often end up gulping down cup after cup because to do otherwise is impolite.

Playing “sho”, or “parasho” — a game in which a dice is rolled and markers, such as old perforated Tibetan coins, are moved clockwise along a wide arc of stones or beads — is favorite Tibetan pastime. The first person to reach the end wins.

Some Tibetans like to gamble. Never bother Tibetan men who are gambling on a game of mah-jong. In the 1980s. Sorrel Wilby, an Australian woman, interrupted a game just to introduce herself, and next thing she knew she was on the ground with a sword at her throat. Many Tibetans play pool under the open sky on roller-mounted movable pool tables. Elderly people remain religious and still deeply revere the Dalai Lama but many teenagers are more interested in video games and cell phones and have little interest in religion.

Lhasa is noted for its slow pace and comfortable living. To enjoy a genuine Lhasa life, you had better go to the sweet tea house, where you can drink sweet tea, chat with friends, enjoy the sunshine. Drinking sweet tea is a part of Tibetan’s daily life. The tea house is a place where people gather together and socialize. The number of brothels, video parlors with pornography and karaoke bars has increased greatly in Tibet since the Chinese began arriving in large numbers. The New Yorker described one nightclub in Lhasa with a heavily made up Nepalese girl doing a pole dance to a Bollwood film tune.

Sports in Tibet

Tibetan wrestling

There are more than 1,000 kinds of sports facilities in Tibet. The modern multiple-purpose gymnasium in Lhasa's northern suburbs can hold 4,000 spectators for basketball, volleyball, table tennis, badminton, gymnastics, wushu martial arts, weight lifting, and wrestling. At festivals you can see people dancing and racing horses and playing polo. The New Year's celebration features horse racing.

In 1408, the king of Gyangtse issued a decree marking the period from April 10th through 27th of every year for prayers and a sacrificial ceremony for his grandfather, with entertainment offered on the 28th. By the mid-17th century, the original ritual ceremonies hade declined and had become symbolic, with horseback archery contests being the most important feature the event.

Soccer is popular in Tibet as it is everywhere. Many monks play soccer. Monks at Tibet’s Sera monastery formed a team to compete against other teams in local games. See "The Cup" under Films About Tibet. The international soccer organization FIFA formally apologized to China after it listed Tibet as a separate country on its website.

During the fifth Dalai Lama period in the 17th century, it was said all males Tibetan should have "nine skills", which included archery, long jumpin , running, swimming, wrestling and rock lifting. There are records from the In the 18th century, indicating Tibetan traditional sports being held at festivals and other celebrations. At this time male Tibetans were expected to adept not only at "nine skills" but also possess 30 craftwork skills and know nine dances. The first Tibetan Traditional Ethnic Minority Sports Meeting, which included seven traditional sports games and 21 performance games, was held in 1989 with large numbers of herdsmen athletes attending.

Traditional Sports in Tibet

Archery evolved out ncient hunting and military practices and today is most popular in the Mainling, Medog, and Zayu areas of the southeastern part of Tibet. One Tibetan form of archery is unusual. The archer shoots an arrow, with an arrowhead pierced with wind channels, high in the air. The air rushing through the channels creates a high-pitched sound through these whistling arrows. Archery is Bhutan's national sport. During competitions, archers are "allowed to jeer at an opponent, jump in front of the target as he shoots, or break his concentration between shots with homemade wine and groups of "seven, nine, or eleven women dancers.' See Bhutan

In traditionally Tibetan wrestling, Two combatants dressed in robes secured with broad belts grasp each other about the waist, each seeking to throw the other to the ground. Only the hands and the strength of the upper body can be used; the use of the feet is not permitted.

In the Tibetan version of tug-of-wars, two ends of a rope are tied together to form a great loop. Each of the two competitors harnesses himself or herself to the rope, passing it between the legs and up over the shoulders. Then, facing in opposite directions, the two struggle forward on their hands and knees, each trying to pull the other over a middle line.

First Tibetan to Win an Olympic Medal

Choeyang Kyi won a bronze medal in the women's 20-kilometer race walk at the 2012 Summer Olympics in London, to become the first Tibetan to win an Olympic medal, The 21-year-old said she felt honored to participate in the Olympics as a Tibetan. “"I'm extremely honored to take part as the first representative of the Tibetans at the Olympic Games and to win a medal," the Associated Press quoted Choeyang as saying. [Source: VOA, August 13, 2012]

The voice of America reported: Tibetans gathered to cheer Choeyang waved Tibetan flags along her route past the Buckingham Palace. Choeyang said she heard Tibetans cheering for her. "I heard it! Really. I heard a Tibetan cheering me on. At the time, I looked backward but couldn't see who that person was," she said.

“Lodi Gyatso, a Tibetan living in England was one of the Tibetans who carried banners that said “You go girl, we Tibetans are with you.” Lodi said he had mixed feelings in seeing Choeyang’s participation in the Olympics. “As a Tibetan, I was very happy to see a Tibetan woman making history in this important event, but I was bit saddened at the same time that her win raised China’s flag at the award podium.”

Tibetan Climbers and Mountain Climbing in Tibet

Tibetans are also excellent mountain climbers. Beginning in the 1980s, Tibetan mountaineering teams have scaled Qowoyag, Noijinkargsang, and Namjabarwa mountains. As of the mid 2000s, ethnic Tibetan members of the Chinese National Mountaineering Team had conquered 13 peaks, with more than 90 climbers ascending above 8,000 meters on more than 140 occasions, and more than 200 climbers exceeding 7,600 meters. During the course of these climbs more than 40 master mountaineers have emerged, including 10 State-level masters.

Chinese, Tibetan and Japanese mountaineering teams have joined together to scale the mighty peaks of Naimonanyi, Zhangzi, and Lhabu Gyikang.

In May 1988, a 12-man team composed of Chinese, Japanese, and Nepalese mountaineers and journalists scaled Mount Everest — half of the climbers, from the north slope, and the rest, from the south — traversing the world's highest peak for the first time in history.

Prefecture and County-Level Sports in Tibet

Sport activities in the Shannan (Lhokha) area of Tibet have a long history. It is said over 1,000 years ago, there were sports meets involving mountain climbing, stone throwing, yak and horse racing, and shooting. These activities were generally only held during major religious festivals.

Shannan sports Committee was established in August 1974. It organizes sports in the area that include basketball, mountain climbing, tug of war competitions, horse racing and track and field activities have been organized frequently and are well received.

The Shannan Sports Committee has a qualified contingent of coaches, judges, and trainers, including ten State-level or above judges, three coaches and 40 full-time sports professionals. In addition, the Chess and Cards Association, the Farmers and Herders Sports Association, the Senior Citizens Sports Association and other mass organizations have been set up.

In 1976, Shannan founded a spare-time sports school. The students undertake both cultural lessons and sports training. In the same year, the sports team representing Shannan Prefecture took part in the autonomous region's teenager track and field sports meet and won a third place in the total team score. Now the school has track and field, ping pong and soccer classes, nurturing a great number of outstanding players for the sports undertakings of Tibet.

In September of 1975, Shannan Prefecture organized a team to participate in the second games of the Tibet Autonomous Region. More than 10 players broke records in 25 events in the games. In August of 1985, the prefecture organized another team and took part in the region's throwing competitions. The prefecture took a team second. One shot-putter broke the region's teenager record. In August of 1987, the Shannan team claimed first place in the teenagers track and field competitions held by the prefecture.

In August of 1988, the prefecture's team took part in the first teenagers games held by the autonomous region. Five players set regional record. In October of 1998, the prefecture sent a team to the National Farmers Games held in Beijing. Dawa Cezhen broke the Tibetan record in the 1500-meter and 3000-meter track events and was awarded a citation for moral character.

According to different conditions in the various schools, the Shannan Sports Committee conducts physical education classes based on track and field in primary and middle schools. Since 1979, track and field and soccer competitions have been held in primary and middle schools. The 7th set of children's exercises set to music and the 5th set of juvenile exercises set to music have been actively promoted, laying a good foundation for the training of personnel in the overall development of moral, intellectual and physical education.

In 1974, the prefecture's sports committee set up a 3.3-hectare sports facility including a shooting range, two basketball courts, a soccer pitch, and a six-lane, 400-meter track. Bleachers as well as an open-air basketball court for 3,000 spectators were also built.

Image Sources: Julie Chao; University of Washington

Text Sources: 1) “ Encyclopedia of World Cultures: Russia and Eurasia/ China “, edited by Paul Friedrich and Norma Diamond (C.K.Hall & Company, 1994); 2) Liu Jun, Museum of Nationalities, Central University for Nationalities, Science of China, China virtual museums, Computer Network Information Center of Chinese Academy of Sciences, ~; 3) Ethnic China *\; 4) \=/; 5), the Chinese government news site | New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, Lonely Planet Guides, Library of Congress, Chinese government, Compton’s Encyclopedia, The Guardian, National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, AFP, Wall Street Journal, The Atlantic Monthly, The Economist, Foreign Policy, Wikipedia, BBC, CNN, and various books, websites and other publications.

Last updated September 2022

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