Sport has an illustrious history in Azerbaijan, with traditional sports and games dating back for centuries. A variety of traditional sports are played at a national level and local level, with traditional games including: topaldiqach (which literally means “ball kidnapping”), surpapaq (a game played on horseback), yayliqqachirtdi (which means "headscarf kidnapping"), chovkan (a variety of polo), chilling-aghach, gulash (wrestling), nard (backgammon) and Seven Beauties being amongst the most popular (see below).
Chovkan is one of the best-known national games. Its name derives from the wooden instrument used to play the game, which is similar to a hockey stick. The game of chovkan is referenced in the Dada Qorqud epic (7th century AD), and in Nizami’s poem Khosrow and Shirin. Players on horseback must hit the ball with a chovkan, a 120–130cm long wooden stick curved at the end, into the opposing team’s goal. The game is played on a 120–130m long and 60–150 wide pitch. The goal posts are two metres high and five metres wide. The game lasts two hours, which includes a resting period, and is accompanied by music. All the players wear national costume (a hat, arkhaliq or tight-fitting jacket and pantaloons). Three umpires referee the game.
Chiling-aghach is played with a stick and peg and is a popular children's game in Azerbaijan. The game is similar to British cricket and American baseball. During the game a little wooden stick (10–12cm long) is used instead of a ball.
Nard or backgammon is the oldest recorded game in human history. Backgammon is widely believed to have originated in Mesopotamia in the ancient Persian Empire. The game was played on wooden boards or stones, with numbered dice made from bone, stone, wood or pottery. Throughout the history of the game, backgammon has been associated with royals and nobles. Many artefacts show the popularity of the game amongst the aristocrats of Persia, Greece, Rome and the Far East. The Persians call backgammon “takhteh nard”, which translates from Persian as "battle on wood" (takhteh is a wooden board and nard is battle). When the Persians invaded Egypt, they introduced the game and it became known as “tau”. The Greek word for backgammon is “tavli”, whilst the Turks call it “tavla”.
Seven Beauties is a competition in which seven girls are given hooks and different coloured threads. At the appointed time they must crochet stockings. The girl who crochets the best quality stockings faster than the other girls will be the winner.
Azerbaijan at the Olympics
Azerbaijani athletes competed in nine Olympic Games between 1952 and 1992 as part of the USSR team, winning 10 gold, 11 silver and seven bronze medals.
In 1992, five Azerbaijani athletes competed at the Barcelona Olympic Games, as part of the Unified Team (the team was comprised of fifteen former Soviet Republics and was referred to as the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) team). Two Azerbaijani athletes won gold medals as part of the Unified Team.
Azerbaijan formed its National Olympic Committee (NOC) in January 1992, and became a member of the European Olympic Committee in November 1992. It was officially recognised by the International Olympic Committee in September 1993. In 1996, Azerbaijan competed independently as a national team for the first time at the Atlanta Olympic Games. The team won one gold medal and was placed in 61st position out of 197 countries competing that year. Azerbaijan has competed, and won medals, at every summer Olympics since 1996.
Azerbaijan sport at an international level
In addition to its traditional sports, there are a number of sports that are incredibly well developed in Azerbaijan. Wrestling, boxing, equestrian sports, basketball, karate, volleyball, swimming, power lifting, football and chess are all played at an international level.
Azerbaijani sporting facts
In Soviet times, the name Garry Kasparov became synonymous with the game of chess. Although referred to as a Russian chess player, Kasparov was in fact born Baku, the capital of Azerbaijan.
The ‘famous Russian’ linesman who was instrumental in awarding the disputed goal to England in the 1966 World Cup Final, Tofiq Bahramov, was Azerbaijani. Bahramov was a well-known football referee in Azerbaijan; the national football stadium was named after him in 2006.