Cultural and Historic: Traditional Games and Sports Around the World

Games and sports are part of every civilizations’ identity. In ancient times, they served as past-times and measured the physical prowess of citizens. They still serve the same purpose now, but with the added task of being living cultural practices. Just a few of the better-known traditional games and sports are listed below.


If you’re down at Cincinnati or Kentucky, you might find yourself asking a local where to buy cornhole boards or bags. That’s because cornhole fever is sweeping backyards in these great cities—and because they’ve had friendly banter over who invented this uniquely American sport.

The American-made sport and past-time is still widely played in parts of the U.S. Enthusiasts believe the game got its name from a man called Matthias Kuepermann, a cabinet maker. Legends say Kuepermann unwittingly created the first cornhole set when he became concerned about the safety of children tossing rocks into a groundhog’s hole. Kuepermann supposedly sewed the first bags filled with corn for the children to toss in holes he made in some boards.

Today, cornhole is played in backyards and on official courts. The American Cornhole Organization and the American Cornhole Association are governing bodies of the sport.

Varzesh-e Bastani

A sport recognized by UNESCO as the longest-running form of a unique combination of training, the Iranian sport of varzesh-e bastani or Pahlevani is an active, traditional sport. Calisthenics is combined with strength training and music in this martial art.

The ancient sport is infused with rituals and practices done at the zurkhaneh or a gymnasium where varzesh-e bastani is practiced. Though it is not an olympic sport, generations upon generations of Iranians still practice varzesh-e bastani. The practice of the sport helps preserve a part of historical Iranian traditions.


Played on horses, the Argentinian game of pato or juego del pato has been its national sport since 1953. Observers of the team sport simplify the game as a cross between basketball and polo. Instead of using live duck as is traditional, modern games of pato now use a ball to score goals into the opposing team’s high net.

Sepak Takraw

kids running

Though many Asian countries have laid claim to sepak takraw, only Malaysia has named it its national sport. A ball sport, sepak takraw is made unique and intense by its strict rules about the body. Only the feet may touch the ball, which must be tossed over a volleyball-tall net to the opponent’s side of the court.

Malaysians value sepak takraw as part of their culture. The Malay Annals speak of the sport’s value to the country’s history. The game is now part of the Asian Games and Asian Beach Games.

Gilli Danda

Cricket with a stick is a succinct, but accurate description of gilli danda. Played originally as an amateur sport, the game from India has many variations on its rule set. What is generally agreed upon is the division of players into teams, which must then score goals by using a big stick to strike a smaller stick in a way that fielders cannot catch it.

Due to the vast interconnectivity of the world, there’s a good chance these games are played outside their native country. Immigrant communities tend to promote these games to retain their cultural identity while living in another country. Games are also passed on for anthropological reasons. Most community centers that practice these games welcome outsiders. New participants are expected to play the games sincerely and treat them with respect.

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