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Oil wrestling (Turkish: yağlı güreş), also called grease wrestling, is the Turkish national sport. It is so called because the wrestlers douse themselves with olive oil. The term “güreş” is shared with other forms of wrestling practiced by Turkic-speakers across Europe and Central Asia, such as the Uzbek kurash, Tuvan khuresh and Tatar köräş. The wrestlers, known as pehlivan (Persian: پهلوان meaning “hero” or “champion”) wear a type of hand-stitched lederhosencalled a kisbet (sometimes kispet), which is traditionally made of water buffalo hide, and most recently has been made of calfskin.
Unlike Olympic wrestling, oil wrestling matches may be won by achieving an effective hold of the kisbet. Thus, the pehlivan aims to control his opponent by putting his arm through the latter’s kisbet. To win by this move is called paça kazık. Originally, matches had no set duration and could go on for one or two days until one man was able to establish his superiority, but in 1975 the duration was capped at 40 minutes for the baspehlivan and 30 minutes for the pehlivan category. If there is no winner, play continues for another 15 minutes—10 minutes for the pehlivan category, wherein scores are kept to determine the victor.
The annual Kırkpınar tournament, held in Edirne in Turkish Thrace since 1362, is the oldest continuously running, sanctioned sporting competition in the world. Oil wrestling festivals also take place in northern Greece in the Eastern Macedonia (Serres region) and West Thrace (Rhodope Mountains). In recent years, this style of wrestling has also become popular in other countries, particularly the Netherlands and Japan.