Central Asia has many spectator-friendly games. But the most famous of them all is the dead goat polo known as Buzkashi (in Afghanistan and Tajikistan) / Kokpar (in Kazakhstan) / Kok Boru – Kukpari – Ulak Tartysh (in Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan).
Due to the popularity of the World Nomad Games, the term kok boru has gained prominence, so we will use it throughout.
Competitions are held, even nationwide and international games are played, but finding out when and where is terribly difficult. These things just aren’t advertised, and only organised in the most informal manner.
Tips for finding games
- All over the region, the season for kok boru is winter, say from November until early April. That’s when it’s not too hot for the horses, and when countryside people have the most free time on their hands.
- It’s a village sport. That’s where the best players live and the most authentic games are played. The city hippodromes host matches on national holidays.
- Top national holidays when kok boru will be played are Nauruz/Norooz/Navruz (around 21 March), and the different Independence Days.
Kok Boru World Championships
An announcement was made that a Kok Boru World Championship would take place in 2019 in Uzbekistan. In the end, it was rescheduled to 2020, but never happened because of the coronavirus pandemic.
We have no news about a new date.
Games around the region
The main region for kokpar is the south, around Shymkent, Turkestan and Taraz, although the north around Astana and Aqtobe also has minimum 20 teams now.
The national kokpar association of Kazakhstan is a subsidiary of the national sports associaton of Kazakhstan. Try to find them.
Local tourism offices might also be of help.
Holidays when kokpar is being played (in order of likeliness): Nauruz (21st of March), Independence Day (16th of December), Republic Day (25th of October) and Constitution Day (28th of January).
Norooz (21st of March) is definitely the top date for kukpari in Uzbekistan. All other games are held “when we feel like it”.
Asrlar Sadosi was an annual event celebrating folk culture with kukpari games, usually in May, held in a different location each year. It was supported by “Googoosha’s” Fund Forum, but since her fall from grace, no editions have been held (last one in 2013). We’re waiting for a new initiative.
Other festivals of note: Independence Day, (1 September), Uzbek Flag Day (8 November), Constitution Day (8 December).
Mid-summer, the At Chabysh horse festival takes place at the foot of Peak Lenin. CBT offices around the country also organise events independently – watch their calendar.
The center of buzkashi culture lies east of Dushanbe in the Hisor area and in the southern province of Khatlon. On Navruz, a big game is usually played near the Hisor Fortress. 2 small villages in the Garm valley near the Kyrgyz border have also been recommended: Kichi Karamyk and Jaylgan. The At Chabysh festival has a smaller spin-off in Murghab, but it is not certain if buzkashi will be on the program.
Here is a fun video of a buzkashi game in Dangara district to give you a feel.
Xinjiang and yak buzkashi
The Kazakhs of Xinjiang are very traditional people and you will find them playing kokpar in winter. That’s all I can say. In the southwest of the province live Tajiks, around Tash Kurgan. These people are known to play not only horse-back buzkashi but also buzkashi on yaks. Your job to find out where and when.
Buzkashi is huge in Afghanistan. It is the national sport and often played on Fridays. Matches draw thousands of fans. That’s really all we can say right now – seeing the security situation at the moment it’s not the best place to go and watch a game.