Thomas Bach wears a blue suit and a white shirt – and holds a large sword in his hand. It’s an unusual accessory for a President of the International Olympic Committee (IOC) to wear in public, but the world’s most powerful sports official insisted on trying out one of the 34 whimsical sports at the 11th World Games for himself, especially as he was an Olympic champion in fencing from 1976 is practically a specialist. This time the Lord of the Rings wielded the sword in Wushu, a Chinese martial art.
The German spent two days in Birmingham in the US state of Alabama, where the World Games are taking place from July 7th to Sunday this weekend. 3,600 athletes from 100 countries took part in a total of 206 events and competed in sports that are not part of the Olympic Games program. Not yet, because many hope to belong at some point. Like break dancing.
The acrobatic dance sport, which ensured a sold-out hall and party atmosphere this week, will be Olympic for the first time in Paris in 2024. Climbing and karate have also made it from the World Games to the Olympics and were there in Tokyo in 2021.
In the homeland of American football, flag football – without a helmet and physical contact – also wants to recommend itself for the 2028 Summer Games in Los Angeles at its World Games premiere. Nick Sellers, Chief Executive of the World Games, says: “For every sport, this is the stage for an Olympic bid. Everyone here has that dream.”
During his visit, Thomas Bach watched boules (also known as boccia from beach holidays), racquetball (a mixture of tennis and squash) and beach handball, among other things. He also opened the korfball tournament; a sport that has its origins in the Netherlands and is similar to basketball; here a ball has to be thrown into a 3.50 meter high plastic basket. The IOC President was enthusiastic: “The World Games show the diversity of sport and we see how the sport develops and grows.”
254 Germans were also present in Birmingham, winning gold in rock ‘n’ roll dance, fistball and several times in lifeguards. The 14 athletes from the German Life Saving Society (DLRG) fished precious metal out of the water a total of 14 times, nine of them gold. In these competitions, among other things, a standardized doll is pulled through the pool as quickly as possible. 19-year-old Nina Holt from DLRG Harsewinkel excelled with a total of five medals and a world record.
Anyone watching a tug-of-war competition for the first time will be surprised. The eight sturdy men of the German national team wear thick shoes that look like mountaineering boots. They should give better grip in the lawn when the musclemen pull on the rope with all their might. What also catches the eye are the retro-style jerseys, a homage to the centuries-old tradition of this sport, which was even an Olympic sport from 1900 to 1920. Incidentally, the shirts worn by the Germans are a bit reminiscent of the “Miracle of Bern” at the legendary World Cup in 1954. The sport is unusually quiet. Only occasionally can a loud “Arrrrrgh” be heard when the athletes mobilize all their strength.
Is it even more bizarre? Without a doubt! For example, in drone hunting and skydiving, more precisely in canopy piloting. Here, athletes jump out of a helicopter and then use a small parachute to glide as far as possible, as close as possible to the water and the ground. In the drone competition, on the other hand, the athletes wear virtual glasses and steer their small aircraft through a course by remote control.
If you like it more brutal, wheelchair rugby is the place for you. Even watching hurts when you see how things get down to business on the floor. Wheelchairs tip over after violent impacts, people fall to the ground. In 2006, the documentary “Murderball” (Murderball) about the games of the American rugby team was even nominated for an Oscar.
The title pretty much describes what is happening. However, the athletes take it sporty when it hits them: They throw themselves back into the wheelchairs and then straight back into the fray. This World Games will feature a sport for people with disabilities for the first time. Wheelchair rugby has been part of the Paralympics since 2000.
The sumo events were also completely sold out. Wrestling is known as a traditional Japanese sport in which the mostly voluminous opponents try to push themselves out of a ring. However, it is no longer just the Japanese who are involved, but athletes from all over the world. Women are now accepted too.
The men’s lightweight final between Egypt’s Abdelrahman Elsefy and Ukraine’s Demid Karachenko caused an uproar: After his victory, Elsefy celebrated with a backflip — and was immediately disqualified for doing so, as such celebrations are against traditional rules.
That in turn drove the winner’s coach up the wall. Abdelrahman Shalan, famous in sumo’s homeland of Japan for being the first African professional wrestler (nicknamed “Big Sandstorm”) freaked out, ripped off his tank top and rampaged like a Rumpelstiltskin for almost two minutes. Five police officers had to calm him down.
The audience, made up almost entirely of sumo laypeople, sided with the mortified, chanting “Egypt, Egypt.” The chaos was complete when the referees suddenly decided to repeat the bout. This time both fighters pushed each other out of the ring simultaneously. TV pictures proved that one of the Ukrainian’s toes first touched the area outside the ring. The Egyptian was the winner again, this time he saved himself the jubilant somersault.
The World Games take place every four years. In 2015, Birmingham prevailed against its competitors Lima (Peru) and Ufa (Russia) as the host. After the summer games in Tokyo were moved to summer 2021, the World Games were also postponed by one year. In 2025 the twelfth edition will take place in Chengdu (China).
While the summer games in Tokyo are said to have cost around 30 billion US dollars, the budget for the Birmingham games is around 60 million. The special thing is that the event takes place almost completely without public funds, instead the money comes from industry and sponsors. This time, by the way, one dollar per World Game ticket sold was donated to Ukraine for the reconstruction of sports facilities.
Over 350,000 tickets (between 20 and 35 euros) have already been sold in advance for the competitions. Especially popular: orienteering, karate, softball, sport climbing, floorball, bowling, billiards, lacrosse. And Ultimate Frisbee: Here, two teams compete against each other and try, similar to handball, to throw the disc back and forth in order to carry it into an end zone like in football. In the US, almost five million people practice this sport. Incidentally, Bach was also at the Frisbee – this time without a sword.