Since football began as a professional sport, the debate has raged on about which type of striker is better – a small, quick forward who is able to dart into the box, nip between two defenders and poach a goal or a tall, big forward who can leap for long balls and muscle his weight into an opportunity. Stoke possess both in Michael Owen and Kenwyne Jones with mixed results with the former unable to get on the field long enough to show what he can do. But in a game played recently in Nepal, It was big striker or bigger striker as the Ninth Annual International Elephant Festival kicked off with a bizarre game of football.
Taking to the field last Friday were 8 elephants (each with its own rider) in what ia likely to be the largest game of football on record. The event which runs over three days features not only a football match between these giant creatures, but also an elephant race, a bull-cart race and a horse-cart race as well as an elephant beauty contest! The festival is designed to draw tourists to the poverty struck area as well as giving something back to the local communities.
Whilst it may appear barbaric and insane to outsiders, especially in the way the riders treat the elephants during the game, the local people have a huge respect for these huge mammals. The people of Saurha, who live within miles of the Chitwan National Park, see the Asian elephant as an intelligent, noble and friendly creature that they are keen to protect from extinction so want to raise awareness of their plight by holding this festival in their honour.
In the game itself saw a tense match between the two teams of elephants: Kist Bank and Gasuri Shankar Development Bank, with Kist Bank coming out in the end with the spoils after a convincing 6-0 victory. Ironically an elephant named Pele won the player of the match award for his fine performance and two goals. After the match, spokesperson Sanjaya Adhikaeri for Kist Bank, one of the sponsors of the event, stated that the game wasn’t played by the riders but by the elephants themselves and that the animals enjoyed playing.
Whether you agree with Sanjaya or not, the festival has managed to achieve its main goal of raising media awareness internationally about the plight of the Elephants. As coverage of the festival reaches the masses, the under lying message is around protection of these amazing creatures from near certain extinction.
To watch the game, click here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CbAenVp6gWI