Sport sponsorship in Mongolia is still lacking. High-schools and colleges don’t often have varsity clubs and teams that compete with each other unless the educational systems reform and encourage athletic competition among students. The usual way to go professional is through joining professional clubs and associations with your own money and spare time. This holds back a lot of talented and willing individuals from pursuing a career in sports, but Mongolia has been successful in producing great athletes nonetheless.

Mongolians usually excel in Judo, wrestling, and boxing. However, that does not mean we don’t enjoy other types of sport activities either as a hobby or just for the viewing pleasure. Here are 5 of the most popular types of sports we enjoy partaking in or watching.

Wrestling

From a young age, it is expected of Mongolian boys to be at least somewhat competent when it comes to wrestling, Mongolian wrestling that is. The rules are simple; don’t fall before you opponent does. It is a sport that requires a good core as well as upper body strength. During the annual Naadam festival we host the Mongolian wrestling championships, which lasts throughout the entire day. Sometimes a single match can even take 3-4 hours!

Greek wrestling is also popular among the younger generation; you might have heard of Mandakhnaran Ganzorig who became Rio Olympics 2016’s sensation, when his coaches decided to strip down in protest against an unfair ruling.

Mongolian wrestling

Sumo

It is a common sight to see many Mongolians sitting in front of a TV cheering for their favourite Sumo wrestlers. When it comes to sumo, Mongolians do very well and consistently win year to year. Some famous Mongolian sumo wrestling are: Dolgorsürengiin Dagvador AKA Asashoryu, Munkhbat Davaajargal AKA Hakuho, and Davaanyam Byambadorj AKA Harumafuji.

asashiro sumo wrestler
Sumo wrestling champion Dagvadorj

Basketball

When it comes to sports popular in the west, Basketball is widely accepted in the Mongolian culture. In most playgrounds there are hoops for kids to play basketball, and some even spend their hard earned money to rent basketball courts for a few hours.

basketball court in mongolia
Average basketball court in Mongolia

The most popular game set-up called “Buunduh” or free for all allows everyone to join in. The first person to usually score 6-8 hoops gets the privilege to kick the least scored player(s) out of the match, and on it goes until there are 2 players remaining; then it is one on one.

Although Mongolians are far from competing amongst the top countries in the world, Mongolian leagues scout out foreign talent and are able to hire them on a contractual basis. In the capital city, Ulaanbaatar, there are 2 major basketball courts that host league matches and most of the time the seats are full.

Football

Football is another Western sport that is very popular in Mongolia. Although we don’t have that many fields and playgrounds to play as freely as basketball, that doesn’t stop Mongolians from playing street football with its own specific rules.

national stadium ulaanbaatar
The national stadium in Ulaanbaatar

Since football fields are scarce it is common to team up with random strangers and play together as a team, or sometimes classmates make their own teams and play against other teams from other classes or schools on a specific agreed bet.

Boxing & Judo

I am putting Boxing and Judo in the same category since they were the blessing of 2008 during the Beijing Olympics. Mongolians took to the streets and cheered their two national athletes for winning the first gold medals in the Olympics.

It was a rare sight to see all Mongolians throughout the capital, honking, laughing, kissing one another, and running amok while the police let them. Naidan Tuvshinbayar and Enkhbat Badaruugan received a hero’s welcome after the games and were awarded handsomely by the government.

Many youth were inspired by their achievements and either picked up Boxing or Judo. Usually the commonplace they all train is in the Sporting Palace near the Sukhbaatar (Chinggis) square.

Hope you enjoyed this article, for further interesting reads, check out this article on Morin Khuur.