TCHOUKBALL, korfball, fistball. These were amongst the 31 sports featured at the recently concluded World Games, which was initially seen as something of an oddball event.
A relative latecomer, the World Games was started only in 1981. It is held every four years, usually in the year following the summer Olympics, and features sports not in the Olympics, like sumo wrestling or parachuting.
In the run-up to the World Games in Kaohsiung, in south Taiwan, many feared that the event might not attract many spectators. But when the curtains fell on the 11-day Games last Sunday, the little-fancied Kaohsiung World Games ended up a big winner.
At first, though, it looked as if politics might mar the Games, if indifference didn't. Most people paid attention only to how China boycotted the welcome ceremony rather than to the welcome ceremony itself. A classic case of politics overshadowing sports.
In case you are wondering why China did what it did, it is because China, or formally the People's Republic of China (PRC), insists that it is the only "China". It does not recognise Taiwan, officially the Republic of China (ROC), and hopes to see it return to its embrace some day. In a nutshell, with the PRC and the ROC - never the twain shall meet.
When the politics finally got out of the way, Kaohsiung and sport proved worthy winners.
While the opening ceremony was hardly a lavish spectacle like that at of the Beijing Olympics last year, it did showcase southern Taiwan's salt-of-the-earth charm.
One highlight during the opening was when Temple Gods on motorbikes — called the Techno San Tai Zi — zigged and zagged on the tarpaulin-covered ground, to the pulsing beats of a song called "You are my flower" by Taiwanese rocker Wu Bai.
It was kitschy but snazzy.
It was also inspired, a riff on the religious street processions seen in many provinces in Taiwan. And a nod to Taiwan's love for ji che, motorbikes or scooters.
And the Taiwanese athletes quietly honing their skills for years, finally got the attention they deserved, dominating headlines here with their stories of sacrifice and sportsmanship.
The island, which is crazy only for baseball and basketball, bagged a record eight gold, nine silver and seven bronze medals at the Games to finish seventh overall.
Despite being world champions, their women's tug-of-war team was little known before the Games. Successfully defending their title on home ground, they won not just fame, but also respect. The ultimate team sport, no individual stands out and no one can afford any slack.
Most of the team members are from poor backgrounds and hungry for success, said their coach Chen Tzuen-lung.
Taiwan's champion women's tug-of-war team.
PHOTO: Ho Aili
The homegrown athletes were not the only ones who won applause. The Swiss tug-of-war team made the front pages of newspapers here when they voluntarily took one man off when their German rivals was one-man short due to injury.
Certainly, the Swiss won a lot more than gold.
As the Games got going, the home fans warmed up and slow ticket sales picked up rapidly. Many bought tickets to see sports they were unfamiliar with just to soak up the carnival-like atmosphere.
One spectator who bought tickets to see rugby though she did not understand the game told a Taiwan newspaper she got her money's worth — when a foreign dude ran naked across the field.
Kaohsiung got the exposure it wanted too, and recouped some of its costs with NT$66 million in revenue.
Overall, the Games was a "fantastic success", said International World Games Association President Ron Froehlich, who was so moved that he even declared it the "best ever".
Not bad for an island which spends so much time quarrelling about politics that it has no time for sports.