When a group of friends from Southern Germany planned a trip to Scotland last year they did not realise they would be taking centre stage at the North Berwick Highland Games pulling on the end of a rope for all they were worth.
Betty and Ellmer told us all about their friend who suggested they attend the Games and then took it upon himself to contact the organising committee and see if they could participate in some way. And the Bavarian Tug of War team was born!
Betty said they quite fancied wearing kilts but were worried this might not be correct as they weren't Scottish so instead they were dressed in the Bavarian traditional dress of Lederhosen under the team name Macglockner. Having no idea of what the Tug o' War actually involved they were up against it with last year's winners Moffat Builders, along with Oxton and the Winton Arms to pull against.
Wondering whether Tug o' War is a very Scottish thing we set out to investigate and soon discovered that it's origins are somewhat unclear with cultures across the world featuring this test of strength in ceremonies and contests. Around 500 BC in Greece, birthplace of the ancient Olympic Games, tug of war was not just for athletes as a competitive sport, but also as training for other sports. There are records of tug of war as part of the ‘kräftige spiele’ (power games) dating back to 100 AD in Western Europe. The Canadian Eskimos still have a tug of war contest known as ‘arsaaraq’. It’s a tug of war contest with the pullers sitting on the ground, using a short rope. The one who pulls his opponent over from his seated position is the winner.
Fast forwarding to the 20th century Tug of war featured in the Olympic Games from 1900 to 1920, after which it was dropped when it was decided to reduce the number of events and participants. In the modern Olympics, the tug-of-war contest was between two teams of eight. One team had to pull the other six feet along in order to win. If after five minutes no team had done this, the team which had pulled the most was declared the winner. The biggest controversy came in 1908 when the Liverpool police team competed in "enormous shoes, so heavy, in fact, it was with great effort they could lift their feet from the ground." The Americans put in a complaint as the rules do state ordinary shoes, however this was not upheld and the the US team withdrew in protest.
Today Tug of war remains a recognised sport by the IOC and the Tug of War International Federation (TWIF) is the recognised world governing body for the tug of war sport. The World Championships take place every 2 years and the European Championships are organised in the intervening years.
So perhaps soon we will see the Bavarian team competing on an international stage? For now Betty and Ellmer were delighted with their first experience, only just missing the podium with fourth place!