Ethnosport at a German university

In October 2016 Ethnosport and the concept behind it became subject of an academic seminar in Germany for the first time. The two cultural anthropologists Malte Wulfinghoff and Robin Schneegaß designed and conducted the practice-related seminar “Ethnosport” for the winter term 2016/17 at the department of social and cultural anthropology of the Eberhard Karls-University in Tübingen.

Based on the theories and methods of the book Ethnosport – The End of Decline by Alexey Kylasov, the lecturers and their 14 students organized an Ethnosport-event, consisting of five traditional sports from around the world. The aim was, to create and carry out a sport-event with which to show that Ethnosport is a very powerful and appropriated tool of cultural understanding. Traditional and indigenous games are very closely linked to the history and the societal structure of the respective nation / ethnic group. They can be used effectively to convey knowledge about certain cultures, where these games not only originate, but are mostly still being played.

The event itself took place in a sports hall in Tübingen on 17th December 2016 from 10:00 to 16:00pm and was open to the general public, but limited to 20 participants. The ‘normal’ population of Tübingen was identified as the target group in order to test the reactions to this new kind of sport-event and the appeal of this mix of culture and sport to participants without any professional connection to cultural anthropolo-gy. The event was supported by the Volkshochschule Tübingen (adult education centre), especially by providing the location, the advertisement, and the participant registration.

During the event the participants could partake in the following five traditional games/sports: Sipa (ball game/Philippines), Haka (dance of the Maori/New Zealand), Gaelic Football (ball sport/Ireland), Pok ta Pok (ball game of the Maya/today reactivated in Mexico), Buzkashi (horse-riding game; but in the version carried out, neither with horses nor with a dead goat/Afghanistan). Every indigenous game had a time-slot of about 60 minutes.

First, the students gave a brief introduction-presentation on the cultural background of each game. The multimedia presentations included data about the country and the population, the origin of the game (ritual, economy, politics, war and/or others), the sociocultural meaning of the game, the element of con-structing national identity through the game, information when and where the game was and is being played and how it is structured/organized today. Afterward the rules of the games were explained and the basic movements trained. Finally, the participants had enough time to practice and play the game. At the end of the event, every participant was interviewed by a student. The interview included 27 qualita-tive and quantitative questions, where the participants could express their thoughts and feedback.

The analysis of these empirical data revealed a very positive result: the combination of theory and prac-tice was a successful method to learn something about foreign cultures. Sport offers an easy and neutral access to other cultures. The general popularity of sport in Germany also attracts people to (until now) unknown kind of sports or sport-events like Ethnosport. Especially the given opportunity to practice the sport on their own was a factor much liked, since the participants could literally step into the original socie-ty and hence better understand its cultural from an emic perspective. In conclusion of both — class and event — it can be said, that by giving additional information on cultural aspects which fit the traditional sports, these national/ethnic sports facilitate a suitable means in favor of international understanding.

The concept of Ethnosport offers the possibility of “cultural learning by playing”. By making traditional sports from abroad, cultural information are learned at the same time, since these sports contain values and norms, virtues, traditions and historical aspects of the nation/ethnic group. Therefore, Ethnosport-events outside the original country of the traditional sport are a useful  tool to arouse the interest of learning more about foreign cultures.

Dr. Malte Wulfinghoff and Robin Schneegaß are cultural anthropologist in Germany. Their main focus is the anthropology of sports. Since 2011 they hold seminars in several German universities. Since 2016 both hold positions in the program “Integration through sports” in the Sports-Associations of Bavaria (Wulfinghoff) and Northrhine-Westfalia (Schneegaß). Wulfinghoff is also member of the Ethnosport World Society.

Cultural background information


Buzkashi (horse-riding game; but in the version carried out, neither with horses nor with a dead goat/Afghanistan)


Gaelic Football (ball sport/Ireland)


Pok ta Pok (ball game of the Maya/today reactivated in Mexico)


Sipa (ball game/Philippines)


Empirical Interviews