No time limits, no rules, an indiscriminate number of players – let’s play Lelo! The game, a no-holds-barred combination of wrestling and rugby, is huge in south-western Georgia, played in the village of Shukhuti every Easter Sunday in remembrance of the dead. The ancient game is a sport and a tradition, but most of all it’s about passion, strength, faith and devotion. Two creeks, set about 150 metres apart, mark the goal lines for each team, which are made up of a set amount of local residents – though anyone is free to join in if they wish. Between the creeks is a playing field full of houses, gardens and a road. The aim is simple: which ever team makes it back to their creek with the 16 kilogram ball wins. Unsurprisingly – given that the game involves gangs of huge, burly men stampeding through the village – fences, saplings and the occasional bone often end up crushed in the melee. Victory in the Lelo game doesn’t only mean beating your opponent; it’s also a tribute to those who are no longer with the winning team – the ball is given as an offering to a deceased villager, placed on his grave after the match.
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