The rise and rise of Kurash at Ashgabat 2017
If you were to scroll down the list of sports at the 5th Asian Indoor and Martial Arts Games 2017, the sport of Kurash might stand out as a relatively unknown entity.
A favourite national sport of Turkmenistan, it first featured in the 2013 edition of the Games. However, its popularity has been widely showcased here in Ashgabat with as many as 122 athletes participating from 21 nations.
Incredible surge in popularity
The sharp rise in popularity in just four years is credited to efforts being put in by the International Kurash Association (IKA) to popularise the sport across the globe. President Haider Farman spoke enthusiastically about Ashgabat 2017’s role in developing it for the past four years.
He said, “In 2010, when we came to know that Ashgabat was going to host the Games, we knew it was a big opportunity for us. Working alongside the Turkmenistan Federation and Organising Committee head Azad Muradov, we set up training camps in various countries such as Tajikistan, Iran and South Korea so that we could educate people about the sport."
'We recognized all national federations like India and Pakistan, so they had the authority to host national championships and we are proud to say that now 21 countries in Asia participate in Kurash,” Farman added.
One athlete who has benefitted from the increase in recognition of the sport is Guruling Shilwant from India, who boasted about the state-of-the-art facilities in Ashgabat.
"I wish I could train here for a longer time"
She said, “I’m from the North-eastern state of Nagaland in India. There we have something similar to Kurash, where we practice. The national federation came to our village, recruited me and told me I will be participating in Ashgabat. Before this, I thought I had no future in the sport."
She added, "Now I reached the quarter-final and people respect me here in Ashgabat. They want to take selfies with me, they think I’m a superstar. Even back in India, now people in my state know me -- all because of this sport. I wish they let me train here for a longer time.”
At Ashgabat 2017, Kurash is represented across 15 categories -- the biggest event for the sport to date. Across the five days, there has not been a single empty seat in the 5,000- capacity stadium, highlighting the nation’s love for the sport.
Japan’s Tanaka Takashi has been playing the sport for the past three years and hasn’t seen such support anywhere else. He said, “I’m from the Northern side of Japan and there we have something similar to Kurash. Hence, when the Japanese Wrestling Federation put advertisements online, I immediately jumped on board. I filled the online form, and immediately I got contacted by the IKA."
"They gave me instructional videos and also invited me to Tokyo for the selection. When I got selected two years ago, I had no idea how popular the sport is. However, I travelled to Ashgabat for one tournament and the stadiums were packed and people treated me like a celebrity. The infrastructure here is world class and I’m sure Japan can learn a lot from them in Kurash,” he explained.
With as many as five practice mats, a fully-equipped gym, a steam and an ice bath, the training facilities at the Martial Arts Arena are of Olympic standard.
Dharambir, who has represented India at the Olympics in the freestyle category is willing to even make a full switch to Kurash. He said, “If I’m given the facilities that are available here I’m sure I can win gold. I hope they invite me again, the crowd support is incredible.”
Four years ago, the world had little to no idea about the sport of Kurash, but now the Central Asian sport in origin is slowly but surely going global.