Oil wrestlers to fight for glory in Turkey’s oldest sports event
Wrestling fans and domestic and international visitors flocked to the province to see the major event that traces its roots to the early times of the Ottoman Empire.
Doused in olive oil and donning leather pants, wrestlers will try to take down their opponents on a grass arena where Ottoman troops once trained.
More than 3,000 oil wrestlers will take part in this year’s event which will take place until July 11, according to Edirne Mayor Recep Gürkan.
The event, in which the wrestlers will compete in 14 different categories, will begin with Gürkan’s representative welcome to Seyfettin Selim, this year’s Kırkpınar Master, at the entrance to the city.
The most important actor of the competitions is traditionally called the Kırkpınar Master (Ağa in Turkish), who is responsible for inviting wrestlers, organizing matches, covering financial needs of the festival and handing out awards.
‘A three-day fest’
On the first day of the event, relatively light weight wrestlers will compete, while the quarter-finals, semi-finals and final competitions for the grand title will be held on July 11.
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, all participants will be required to submit a negative PCR test done within the last 48 hours, or else they will not be allowed to enter the competition.
Tracing its roots back to the 14th century, the Kırkpınar Oil Wrestling is recognized as a cultural heritage by UNESCO and is believed to be one of the oldest sports in the world, having been practiced since the middle ages in the Balkans.
In traditional oil wrestling, wrestlers wear leather pants, rub olive oil on their bodies and tackle each other on grass fields to be the last man standing to earn the title of “Chief Wrestler” (Başpehlivan) and the right to wear the prestigious golden belt for a year.
According to Kırkpınar rules, a wrestler has to win the chief wrestler title for three successive years in order to win the golden belt forever.
Looking at the titles of chief wrestler in the last 10 years, the golden belt has always gone to the southern province of Antalya, except for 2014 and 2016.
Recent champions Mehmet Yeşil Yeşil, Ali Gürbüz, İsmail Balaban and Orhan Okulu all took the golden belt to Antalya, their hometown; only Fatih Atlı in 2014 (Black Sea province of Samsun) and Recep Kara in 2016 (Black Sea province of Ordu) took the title elsewhere.