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Tibetans flock to ethnic games event
By:China Daily
update:July 09,2024
Athletes compete in a yak racing event during the Farmers and Herders Games in Lhasa, Xizang autonomous region, on June 23. LI LIN/CHINA NEWS SERVICE

Though Migmar Qungda, a 76-year-old herder, spent an entire morning moving between several competition areas at the Lhasa Sports and Cultural Center on a recent Sunday, he said he believed that his day-long hitchhiking journey to the venue was totally worthwhile.

The senior lives in Palgon county, Nagchu city, which is about 360 kilometers away from Lhasa, capital of the Xizang autonomous region. He enjoys playing xiuzi, a strategic Tibetan dice game, and jiren, a traditional Tibetan board game.

"I am very good at those games and have been playing them since I was young," Migmar Qungda said. "When I learned that Lhasa was hosting the Farmers and Herders Games with my favorite events included, I decided to come and watch. The games offer our herders a chance to participate in sports and compete. My two sons will take care of our cattle in my absence."

Both xiuzi and jiren were featured as part of the first Lhasa Farmers and Herders Games, a new attempt at mass fitness activities on the roof of the world. The competition ran from June 22 to 27.

It featured 19 events divided into two main categories: competitive and traditional ethnic events. Besides, xiuzi and jiren, the traditional ethnic events included guduo (a traditional Tibetan sport where participants throw stones tied to ropes), yak racing and Tibetan chess. The competitive category featured games such as table tennis and various track and field events. Over 500 athletes from Lhasa participated.

Thirty-seven-year-old farmer Losang Chosphel, from Dagze district, took part in the jiren competition, which has a history spanning several hundred years. The game is played in a manner similar to billiards; players have to slide small, metal discs into holes in the corners of the board using their fingers.

"The games give our farmers and herders a platform to showcase our ethnic traditional sports," he said.

Losang Chosphel's fellow villager, Lhapa Drolma, said she enjoyed participating in the yajia event, also known as "elephant tug-of-war", particularly because it was so close to home. She said she looks forward to taking part in similar activities in the future.

At the games, Sonam Dekyi served as a referee for the yajia, a traditional sport among Tibetan people. There were five yajia categories at the games, with 42 participants.

"Yajia is a game that farmers and herders often play during village festivals, but their techniques are not very professional, and they don't know how to protect themselves," Sonam Dekyi said. "Before the competition, the referees explained the rules to the participants to prevent fouls. The competition is much more standardized compared to the ones they have in their villages."

Migmar Qungda, director of the Lhasa Sports Bureau, said traditional Tibetan activities such as yak racing, stone lifting and Tibetan chess are common among local farmers and herders. The games aimed to provide them with a platform to showcase their sporting spirit and offer a higher-level platform for competitive exchange.

"These events are highly characteristic of Xizang," she said. "Nowadays, the living standards of our farmers and herders have greatly improved, and their demand for spiritual and cultural activities has increased. We held the games to meet their spiritual and sports needs, and we also hope the games will showcase the spirit of our rural Tibetans."

China's rural sports have experienced a surge in popularity recently. An amateur soccer tournament in Rongjiang county, Guizhou province, gained unexpected popularity. It was dubbed cun chao by Chinese netizens, meaning "Village Super League".

In addition, village basketball and volleyball tournaments have also thrived across China, infusing ethnic cultural characteristics into sports events. The success of these rural sports tournaments has sparked a tourism boom and brought substantial economic benefits.

Migmar Qungda also expects the ethnically distinct Farmers and Herders Games to draw more attention and promote sports consumption.

"During the games, we organized complementary activities such as a food carnival, an exhibition of specialty agricultural products and a sports experience zone. This initiative aims to foster the integrated development of sports with agricultural, pastoral culture and tourism," she said.

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