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SHUKHUTI, Georgia — Every yr, a whole lot of Georgians collect on Orthodox Easter in April for a sporting match that makes rugby appear tame.
Called Lelo Burti, this notoriously brutal sport originated three centuries in the past and was as soon as performed throughout Georgia. Now, a match is barely held yearly, in one place in the world: Shukhuti, a village in the west of the nation. An much more ancient form of the sport, known as Burtaoba, dates again hundreds of years.
Watching this muddy and bloody sport offers an perception into how this Caucasian nation with a inhabitants of simply 3.7 million carved out a spot for itself at rugby’s high desk in this yr’s World Cup, alongside heavyweights comparable to New Zealand, South Africa and France.
Lelo Burti has barely any guidelines, no time restrict, and no set variety of gamers.
The match options two groups — Zemo (Upper) and Kvemo (Lower) Shukhuti — and a 16-kilogram ball, which is made out of scratch annually by stuffing a leather-based casing with principally sand, sawdust and wine.
The ball is saved in the native church earlier than kick-off at 5 p.m., when a priest brings it to the middle of the village and throws it into the thronging mass of contributors, this yr numbering in the a whole lot. Their goal is to get the ball previous their very own purpose — by any means mandatory. The first to take action, wins.
This yr’s match lasted simply 60 minutes and noticed Zemo Shukhuti declare victory.
As custom dictates, the gamers then carried the ball to the native cemetery to relaxation it on the grave of a revered particular person. That honor this time went to Aleksandre Mgeladze, who died final yr shortly after taking part in the sport.
While rugby union has now taken over as Georgia’s nationwide sport, Lelo Burti hasn’t been totally relegated to the previous; at the World Cup in France, kicking off in September, anticipate to listen to Georgian followers chanting: “Lelo, Lelo, Sakartvelo!” (“Score, score, Georgia!”)