Buzkashi is the national sport and a “passion” in Afghanistan. The game is mostly played in the northern parts of the country, especially in Balkh province where matches usually draw thousands of fans. Buzkashi has Central Asian origins, immensely popular among the northern and central non-Pashtun population of Afghanistan. However, the small and scattered Pashtun communities of the north have also been attracted by the game.

The game involves the headless carcass of a calf or a goat kept in the center of the field. Players of two opposing teams try to get hold of the carcass and carry it to the goal area. This is not a simple task and requires great skills. Novice players cannot even get close to the carcass. The game continues until a team is announced the winner. Winner of the match receives prizes ranging from money, fine turbans and clothes.

 Due to hectic nerves, the players, known as chapandaz, don’t mind bumping, hitting or jarring opponents. The Afghans put very high stakes in the game. Most of them continue playing with cracked ribs and broken limbs. The players prefer to return home stained with blood, posing as brave, rather than to return safe and sound, and look cowardly.

Whitney Azoy notes in his book “Buzkashi: Game and Power in Afghanistan:…. (that) leaders are men who can seize control by means foul and fair and then fight off their rivals. The Buzkashi rider does the same.” During the Taliban regime, Buzkashi was banned in Afghanistan, as the Taliban considered the game immoral. Since the regime was ousted, the game is now being played again.

The 2012 joint international-Afghan short film Buzkashi Boys depicts a fictional story centered around the game, and has won awards at several international film festivals. On January 10, 2013, The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences nominated the film for an Oscar in the category of Short Film (Live Action) for the 85th Academy Awards.

Sources: Wikipedia & SAARC Tourism. Pictures from blog.