From naked sledding to cheese rolling: These are Europe's most unusual sporting events

Here are some of the most bizarre sporting events found in Europe
Here are some of the most bizarre sporting events found in Europe Copyright AFP/Canva
By Theo Farrant
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Here are some of the most unusual sporting events played around Europe, that are sure to leave you scratching your head in confusion and amusement.

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Recently, thousands of fearless participants gathered to take part in the annual Royal Shrovetide football game. 

If you've never heard of this violent and absolutely bonkers medieval sport before, picture this: two teams, consisting of about 1,000 people each, gather in a small town in England to play a game of football. But, here's the twist - there are no rules, no set field, the goals are three miles apart and the match takes place across two days. 

It's like a cross between football and a pub crawl, with a sprinkling of the Hunger Games thrown in for good measure.

In honour of this brutal event, we thought we'd take a look at some of the other unusual games and traditional sporting events found around Europe. 

From naked sledding to cheese rolling, these sports are sure to leave you scratching your head in confusing and amusement. 

Cheese Rolling (England)

Ben Birchall/AP
Max McDougall, 22, from Brockworth, the winner of the first men's downhill race, chases the cheese during the annual cheese rolling competition at Cooper's Hill in BrockworthBen Birchall/AP
Aaron Chown/AP
Chris Anderson, 30, holds up his prize after breaking the all-time record for the most cheeses won in the death-defying Cheese Rolling RaceAaron Chown/AP

The name says it all - this game involves rolling a giant wheel of cheese down a steep hill, with participants running after it. Similar to the golden snitch in Harry Potter, the competitors aim to catch the cheese and the first person to cross the finishing line with the cheese wins. 

The game is played annually in the quaint English town of Brockworth in Gloucestershire, and it's definitely not for the faint of heart! 

Some say it's a celebration of the human spirit, others say it's just a bunch of lunatics chasing dairy products down a hill. Whatever the case may be, one thing is for sure: the event is definitely not for the faint of heart!

Wife-Carrying World Championship (Finland)

Kimmo Rauatmaa/Lehtikuva
Sweden's Viktor Okerblom Jonsson carrying Amanda Stenberg compete in the Wife Carrying World Championships in Sonkajarvi, FinlandKimmo Rauatmaa/Lehtikuva

The Wife Carrying World Championship in Finland is not your average sporting event. 

Known as Eukonkanto in Finland, the event involves male participants carrying their female partners on their backs through a challenging obstacle course. The wife must weigh at least 49 kilograms, and if she falls off, the team is penalised.

It's believed that the competition originated from a Finnish legend in which a man had to carry his wife through a forest while being chased by bandits. 

The competition is not just a test of physical strength and endurance, but also of trust, communication and teamwork of the couples involved.

Instead of medals or a cash prize, the winning couple receives the wife's weight in beer. Cheers to that!

Naked Sledding (Germany)

Photo credit: Joern Haufe
Participants line up for a naked snow-sledding race in Altenberg, GermanyPhoto credit: Joern Haufe

Germany is known for many things - delicious beer, stunning architecture, and a rich cultural history. But did you know that they also have a tradition of naked sledding? 

That's right, every year in the snowy spa town of Braunlage, people gather to race down a snowy hill in nothing but their birthday suits! 

The event, which takes place in mid-February and draws crowds of around 25,000 people, is participated in by both men and women from all over the world. Competitors sled it out to win a €1,000 prize. 

And while the idea of racing down a hill naked may seem a bit daunting, the organisers take safety very seriously. Helmets are mandatory, and participants are only allowed to sled on specially designated tracks.

Bog Snorkelling (Wales)

Jacob King/AP
A competitor takes part in the World Bog Snorkelling Championships at Waen Rhydd peat bog in Llanwrtyd Wells, WalesJacob King/AP

If you've ever wanted to swim through a peat bog with nothing but a snorkel and flippers, then the World Bog Snorkelling Championships, in Llanwrtyd Wells, Wales, might just be the event for you! 

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So what exactly is bog snorkelling, you might ask? 

Well, it's exactly what it sounds like. Participants don their best snorkelling gear and dive into a muddy bog, where they swim through a set course as fast as they can. It may sound easy, but navigating through the murky waters of a peat bog is no simple task.

Participants come from all over the world to compete in this event, and they take it very seriously. They spend months training and preparing for the big day, fine-tuning their snorkelling technique and studying the ins and outs of peat bogs.

But the best part of the World Bog Snorkelling Championships? The costumes, of course! Competitors often come dressed in wacky outfits, from superhero costumes to inflatable animal suits. And while they may not help with the actual swimming, they certainly add to the entertainment value.

Extreme canal jumping (The Netherlands)

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Rian Baas in action during the Red Bull Fierste Ljepper in HaarlemRed Bull Content Pool

A spectacular sport known as fierljeppen (which literally translates to "furthest jumper") sees its brave participants attempt to jump as far possible over a body of water with the help from a special vaulting pole.

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The sport originated in the Netherlands, where canals are as common as tulips and windmills. Legend has it that it started as a way for farmers to cross canals and ditches in the 1700s, but it has since turned into a competitive sport with championships held throughout the country.

One of the biggest and most competitive contests is the Red Bull Fierste Ljepper, which made its return last year in the Dutch city of Haarlem.

Calcio Storico (Italy)

TIZIANA FABI/AFP
Players compete during the final match of the Calcio Storico Fiorentino (Historic Florentine Football) on Piazza Santa Croce in Florence on June 24, 2018.TIZIANA FABI/AFP
VINCENZO PINTO/AFP
Players compete during the final match of the Calcio Storico Fiorentino (Historic Florentine Football) on Piazza Santa Croce in Florence on June 24, 2018.VINCENZO PINTO/AFP

Imagine a dusty, sand-filled field in the heart of Florence, Italy. The sun beats down on a crowd of rowdy, passionate spectators, eagerly awaiting the start of the game. And then, the players emerge, dressed in nothing but traditional 16th-century garb, looking like they've just stepped out of a Renaissance painting.

But don't be fooled by the fancy dress - this is no ordinary game. In fact, Calcio Storico, also known as "historic football," is a violent, no-holds-barred battle between two teams of 27 players each, all vying for the honor of victory.

The rules of Calcio Storico are simple: get the ball into the opposing team's goal by any means necessary. And when we say any means necessary, we mean it. Players are allowed to punch, kick, and elbow their opponents, and even headbutt and body-slam them to the ground.

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But why, you may ask, would anyone subject themselves to such a brutal game? Well, for the players, it's all about the honor and pride of their team and their city. Calcio Storico has a long and storied history, dating back to the 16th century, and is seen as a way to honor the traditions and culture of Florence.

And for the spectators of the annual event, it's a chance to let loose and cheer on their favourite team, while enjoying a few cold beers and some traditional Tuscan food.

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