Sport in the South Caucasus

>>Football is for girls. Real men wrestle, explains an Azerbaijani military officer

TBILISI, Aug. 3 2012 – The Azerbaijani Lieutenant-colonel leaned forward, his manicured moustache twitching ever-so slightly. At the rowdy bar in Tbilisi’s Old Town, dozens of soccer fans cheered a European Championship football match.

“This game, football,” he said, pulling a glass full of beer across the table. “It’s not so popular in this region. We prefer wrestling.” He sipped the beer and slid a chip into his mouth. The Lieutenant-colonel was clearly a particular man. His dark hair was carefully slicked back, his shirt and jeans had been pressed with precision.

While the crowd at the open-air bar became more animated, the Lieutenant-colonel remained impassive. He had been invited to Tbilisi for a conference with other South Caucasus militaries, part of an attempt by the OSCE, Europe’s democracy and stability watchdog, to keep the peace.

He ordered another beer. Football may not interest him but wrestling did.

“It’s very important here. Across Central Asia and the South Caucasus it’s the main sport,” he explained. “The best three teams are Russia, because they can pick from Dagestan (a tough, semi-lawless part of the North Caucasus). Iran is also good and of course Azerbaijan.”

By comparison, Armenia, Azerbaijan’s arch-rival, is no good at wrestling, the Lieutenant-colonel said, a hint of a smile breaking out under his ever-so slightly twitching moustache.


This article was first published in issue five of the Correspondents’ Notebook which is published once a month with the weekly Central Asia & South Caucasus News. For more information click here

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