Wrestlers are seen during the traditional Kirkpinar Oil Wrestling Festival in Edirne, Turkey, July 7, 2019. Turkey's Kirkpinar Oil Wrestling Festival is a centuries-old traditional sport event, in which sportsmen covered with olive oil compete to win a prestigious golden belt. (Xinhua/Ihlas News Agency)
ANKARA, July 7 (Xinhua) -- Turkey's Kirkpinar Oil Wrestling Festival is a centuries-old traditional sport event, in which sportsmen covered with olive oil compete to win a prestigious golden belt.
The tournament, held from July 5 to 7 in northwestern Edirne province, is the 658th edition. The event was broadcasted on national television to millions of viewers.
There are several different competition ranking according to the age of the wrestlers, but the most awaited and important one will be for the title of "bas pehlivan," which means "the Chief Wrestler."
Recep Gurkan, mayor of Edirne province, told reporters that a total of 2,300 wrestlers are competing in this year's edition, with dozens of referees and musicians playing traditional tunes, one of the cornerstones of the event.
The wrestlers wear tight leather pants called "Kispet," made of water buffalo leather weighing approximately 13 kg, and they cover themselves abundantly with olive oil.
Each year, tons of olive oil are used to lubricate the half-naked male wrestlers, making the competition very difficult for the athletes as they become slippery.
This year at least three tons of olive oil is used, state-run Anadolu agency reported, quoting organizers.
It is both a sport and a cultural activity which dates to the early years of the Ottoman Empire, in the 14th century. The wrestlers who compete in this tournament become the respected members of their communities, a sign of masculinity.
Ottomans themselves took this tradition, which ultimately became the national sport of Turkey, from an even ancient culture: the Persians.
In addition to holding the Guinness World record for being the longest running sports event in history, the Kirkpinar oil wrestling tournament has also been added in 2010 to UNESCO's Intangible Cultural Heritage List.
If the chief wrestler wins three years in a row, he owns the golden belt given to him by the authorities, a 1.5-kg and 14-carat belt. Wrestlers are given cash as prices, as well as horses, lambs or sheep.
In recent years, the tournament has become a touristic event attracting photographers and culture lovers from across the world. Hotels are full during this festival as thousands of tourists flocked there to see the ancient and authentic sports as well as local historical sites.
"I came to Edirne some 10 years ago, and I found this sport very interesting. It's different from other known sport styles. This year, I plan to take a lot of pictures to share with my friends," Laurent Simon, a French traveler, told Xinhua in Ankara before traveling to the Edirne festival.
"The music was played with traditional music instruments, the davul (drum) and zurna (a type of basic flute) really puts everyone in the mood of the competition. You can feel the enthusiasm of the wrestlers and the crowd," he said.
Simon added that he expected "to be part of the big fair" and to taste the local cuisine of the region.
Oil wrestling is practiced in several regions of Turkey, not only in Edirne, the most famous one. Any wrestler from a traditional upbringing has an apprentice. The master trains his apprentice and teaches him the art of oil wrestling. After the master wrestler quits the competition, his apprentice continues his tradition.
To show that is a form of culture anchored in religion and tradition, a younger wrestler defeating an older wrestler will kiss the older wrestler's hand, a sign of respect.