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A game of Tug of war
Tug of war, also known as tug o' war, tug war or rope pulling, is a sport that directly puts two teams against each other in a test of strength. The term may also be used as a metaphor to describe a demonstration of brute strength by two opposing groups, such as a rivalry between two departments of a company. In this scenario, there is a third party who is often considered the "rope" in the tug of war.


The origins of tug of war are not clearly known, though they must be very old. It may have originally been a ritual or religious contest:

There is no specific time and place in history to define the origin of the game of Tug of War. The contest of pulling on the rope originates from ancient ceremonies and rituals. Evidence is found in countries like Egypt, India, Myanmar, New Guinea... The origin of the game in India has strong archaeological roots going back at least to the 12th Century AD in the area what is today the State of Orissa on the east coast. The famous Sun Temple of Konark has a stone relief on the west wing of the structure clearly showing the game of Tug of War in progress.

The origins of Tug of War are uncertain, but it is beyond dispute that this once royal sport was practiced in ancient Egypt and China, where it was held in legend that the Sun and Moon played Tug of War over the light and darkness.

Tug of War stories about heroic champions from Scandinavia and Germany circulate Western Europe where Viking warriors pull animal skins over open pits of fire in tests of strength and endurance in preparation for battle and plunder.

1500 and 1600 – Tug of War is popularized during tournaments in French chateaux gardens and later in Great Britain...

1800 – Tug of War begins a new tradition among seafaring men who were required to tug on lines to adjust sails while ships were underway and even in battle.

The Oxford English Dictionary says that the phrase 'tug of war' originally meant the decisive contest; the real struggle or tussle; a severe contest for supremacy. Only in the 19th century was it used as a term for an athletic contest between two teams who haul at the opposite ends of a rope.


The Dutch team at the 2006 World Championships
teams of eight, whose total mass must not exceed a maximum weight determined for the class, align themselves at the end of a rope (approximately 10 centimetres in circumference). The rope is marked with a "centre line" and two markings four meters either side of the centre line. The teams start with the rope's centre line directly above a line marked on the ground, and once the contest (the "pull") has commenced, attempt to pull the other team such that the marking on the rope closest to their opponent crosses the centre line, or the opponents commit a foul (such as a team member sitting or falling down). Lowering ones elbow below the knee during a 'pull' known as 'Locking' is a foul, as well as touching the ground for extended periods of time. The rope must go under the arms, actions e.g. pulling rope over shoulders may be considered fouls. These rules apply in heavily weighted competitions. For example, if teams are competing to determine who goes to the world Championships, the rules will be much stricter. But in small entertainment competitions the rules are arbitrarily interpreted and vaguely followed.

A contest may feature a moat in a neutral zone, usually of mud or softened ground, which eliminates players who cross the zone or fall into it.

As a sport

There are tug of war clubs in many countries, and both men and women participate.

The sport was part of the Olympic Games from 1900 until 1920, but has not been included since. The sport is contested in the World Games. The Tug of War International Federation (TWIF), organizes World Championships for nation teams biannually, for both indoor and outdoor contests, and a similar competition for club teams.

In England the sport is catered for by the Tug of War Association (formed in 1958), and the Tug of War Federation of Great Britain (formed in 1984). In Scotland, the Scottish Tug of War Association was formed in 1980. The sport also features in Highland Games there.

Teams and countries involved

The sport is played almost in every country in the world. However, a small selection of countries have set up a national body to govern the sport. Most of these national bodies are associated then with the International governing body call TWIF which stands for The Tug of War International Federation. As of 2008 there are 53 countries associated with TWIF, among which are Scotlandmarker, Irelandmarker, Englandmarker, Switzerlandmarker and Belgiummarker.

  • Mountain View TOW - A professional team, based in County Louthmarker, Irelandmarker
  • Dorton Dons - village team based in Dortonmarker in Buckinghamshire, England
  • Clonmany TOW - Have some strong pullers, based in County Donegalmarker, Irelandmarker
  • Congleton Tug of War Club - English Tug of War , based in Congleton, Cheshire, England.
  • Björke SK - is one of the best teams in Sweden, they have won more national gold medals than any other Swedish team, they are based in Boxholmmarker, Swedenmarker
  • Holland Tug of War Club - established 1970, from Barton under Needwood in Staffordshire, England, hold a Guinness World Record for Tug of War Endurance
  • Sandhurst Tug of War Club - A club that have won several World Championship medals, based in Sandhurstmarker, Berkshire
  • Brisbane Bulldogs - Based in Brisbane, Australia
  • Australian Tug of War Association ATOWA, Australia
  • Mölndals Tug of war Club, Sweden
  • Croydon postal warlingham Tug of War Club


Arm severing incident

On October 25, 1997, Yang Chiung-ming and Chen Ming-kuo each had their left arms severed below the shoulder during a massive Tug-of-War event in Taipeimarker, Taiwanmarker. The event involved over 1,600 participants whose combined strength exerted over 80,000 kg of force on a 5 cm (2 inch) nylon rope that could only withstand a maximum of 26,000 kg. The rope immediately snapped and the sheer rebounding force of the broken rope tore off the men's arms. Both men were immediately taken to a nearby hospital where their arms were successfully reattached. Reports of the incident had evolved into an urban legend incorrectly stating that the men had their arms wrapped around the rope; in fact, neither man had his arm wrapped around the rope, and the rebounding force of the rope was solely responsible for the injuries.

Unsuitable rope

In the German town of Westernohemarker 650 young scouts participated in a tug of war in 1995. When the rope broke, only 30 sec. into the tug, two children were killed and 102 participants suffered injuries. The rope was judged to be unsuited for the use in the related court case.

Partially severed hands

Two Lutheran High School students in Parker, Colorado had their right hands partially severed in a pep rally tug of war between members of the senior and junior classes on October 12, 2007.


  • The rope used for a tug of war in Uiryeongmarker Keunjulttaenggigi (January 15 in Chinese calendar) is 251 meters long, 4.5 meters in circumference and weighs 54.5 metric tons.
  • The rope used for a tug of war in Naha Oōtsunahiki (October 10) is 200 meters long and weighs more than 40 metric tons.
  • A special edition of The Superstars called "The Superteams" featured a tug-of-war, usually as the final event.
  • The Battle of the Network Stars featured a tug-of-war as one of its many events.
  • The Peruvian children's series Nubeluz featured its own version of tug-of-war (called "La Fuerza Glufica"), where each team battled 3-on-3 on platforms suspended over a pool of water in an effort to pull the other team into the pool.
  • A game of tug-of-war, on tilted platforms, was used on the US, UK and Australian Gladiators series although the game was played with two sole opposing participants.
  • In South Korea and Japan, the tug of war (綱引き in Japanese) is a staple of school sports festivals.

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