Kazan: Sports Capital of Russia

Throughout Russia, the city of Kazan and the capital of Tatarstan is renowned as a sports capital. It’s a fact unlikely to escape even the briefest of visitors, as stadiums and sporting venues dot the skyline and banners advertising last summer’s Universiade games still hang proudly along Bauman Street, the main pedestrian thoroughfare downtown.


Meet the mascot of the Summer 2013 Universiade, a snow leopard modeled off of the official symbol of Tatarstan.

My first day exploring the city was, not the least to say unexpectedly, spent watching Kazan City Racing and a number of Formula 1 drivers speed along Millennium Square located just adjacent to the Kremlin and backdropped by the iconic view of the Qol Sharif Mosque. This was Kazan’s first time hosting the event, as it had previously only been held in Moscow; needless to say, the spectators turned out in droves.


Not bad for my first day!

Ever since, I feel as though I’ve been told about a seemingly endless number of athletic competitions being held throughout the city, and have on more than one occasion spied a group of uniformed athletes touring Kazan in their free time. Moreover, the stream of sporting events into Kazan by no means appears to be slowing. On the contrary, the historic capital of Tatarstan is slated to host a number of upcoming international competitions, including the World Aquatics Championship in 2015 and the FIFA World Cup in 2018.


Even Sabantuy, a Tatar national holiday historically celebrating the sowing season, centers predominately around traditional Tatar sporting competitions, including Kuresh (көрәш), or wrestling, shimmying up a wooden pillar, tug-of-war, sack racing, and other games that seem to lack two-to-three word equivalents in English. Having lived in Turkey and learned about the tradition of oil wrestling, the Turkish take on a sport popular throughout Central Asia (where in Turkey participants douse themselves in olive oil prior to a match), I was particularly curious to see how the Tatar version would be similar or different.


As it would turn out, there was no oil involved at all; instead, participants were provided with a type of long cloth or towel to use to help them throw their opponent off their feet. Most matches tended to be fairly quick, though every so often you’d be witness to a standoff such as the one pictured above.

However, my favorite game of the day was beyond question the pillar climbing, in which the goal was for the contestant to shimmy up the top of a wide pole before they lost their strength or slipped. The pillar was impossibly high and most attempts hardly made it more than a fifth of the way up. For the duration of time I spent in the clearing, I only saw one man make it to the very top. Unfortunately, the man pictured below wasn’t him.

By: Keely Bakken

Program: Eurasian Regional Language Program (ERLP)

Term: Summer 2014

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