HISTORY of Tug-of-War on the Indian Subcontinent

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, Combodia, indicating the existence of the game. Essentially the game has been inspired from two circumstances, namely, the presence of cultivated jute fiber in the geographical area lived by a community, and that the same community was undertaking coastal shipping activity. Jute ropes were used to tie the wooden boats or string the canvas sails on the sailing boats.

Interestingly, in the interior of East India and in North Myanmar the game of Tug of War is replicated using green bamboo stocks which are very thin and supple.

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. To find this game included in a place of religious practice should indicate state patronage. The Temple was made under the supervision of King Narsimha the First, and his son King Narsimha the Second.   Konark Sun Temple (Orissa).

Similarly stone wall murals in the Angkorwat Temple in Cambodia show in relief a tug of war game in progress. This temple is part of a Hindu worship complex and in all probability the people of Orissa as settlers had constructed it.

The game's presence in the Middle East region is explained by the fact that the area on the West Coast of India mainly the cities of Barruch, Surat and coastal Karachi (now in Pakistan) had flourishing industry in rope weaving. Even towns further south in Cochin were famous for rope making,but the norther towns manufactured their ropes from jute, sal leaves and cotton while those of South India,coir was used as raw material. These ropes were exported to Middle East shipping communities, and the game followed.

The Game in India does not seem to have had a widespread interest until the militia of the East India Company discovered it when they were present in the opening of the 18th Century in East India. The Militia officers found the game interesting as it led to quick results and  was manly enough for acceptance.

As the rule of the East India Company extended deeper on the Sub-continent and later by the administration of Imperial Crown by the middle of the 19th Century, the game of Tug of War also moved along finding itself regularly played in police and military camps. The game finally reached rural India when the Indians employed in the army and the police, superannuating from active duty returned home taking along the knowledge of this game to their villages.

In 1902, the Indian British Army printed the first rules of the game, which were enforced on the Sub-continent until recently.

The earliest evidence in modern India indicating the widespread interest  in the game is found in pictures collected by TWFI which date back to at least 1902.

The rules framed in 1958 by the English Tug of War Federation ( International Federation) have now replaced the old rule book of the Army and the Tug of War Federation of India is doing this work in India.

There is another historical reference from the Indian province of Manipur situated with the border of Myanmar (Burma)

On the sixth day of the Lal Haraoba (Pleasing of the Gods Ceremony) there is a ceremony of Lai Nonggaba meaning sojouring of Laiyingthou the Supreme God and Lairenbi,the Supreme Goddess.

One day after Lainonggaba, competitions in games and sports are organized in the courtyard of the Shrine. On this day, games like Mukna (Local style of wrestling), Kangjei (Local style of hockey), Lamjel (athletics), Sagol Kangjei (Polo) and Pou-Chingnaba are held.

The background of Pou Chingnaba (tugging of bamboo), now commonly known as Thouri Chingnaba, because of the substitution of Pou (bamboo) with thouri (rope), is described by W. Yunmao in his book Philosophy on Meitei Lal Haraoba. The tugging of the Pou indicates the competition between the heart and the mind. The women holding the bamboo at one end represent the heart and the men holding the pou (bamboo) on the other end represents the brain.

In the tugging of Pou, the mens side is made to win the competition to show that when there is a tussle between the heart and the mind, the brain representing men, always wins. This also shows that whenever the heart is arrogant, the brain can control it.

Recently the Tug of War Federation of India, in its relentless effort to add to the history of the game have been able to trace out some photographs  showing the interest in the game by the soldiers of the British Indian Army. The oldest photograph in hand is dated to 1902, and another one to the year 1904. In 1904 the 8th Rawalpindi Battalion,'G' Company Royal Battalion,Delhi and Meerut Assaults,was awarded the Best Team in British Indian Army.

We appeal to  internet users to inform us of any existing old photograph earlier to 1902 which could be shared with us to enlarge the history of the game in India.

The game as we know was already a part of the sports programme in the first Olympic Games in 1896. Therefore its popularity in the segment of players playing Olympic games was already there.

The knowledge and practice of the game in modern times on the Indian Subcontinent  is widespread today. In the whole of the Subcontinent in the lands now within Pakistan, in Afghanistan and  most of the parts of west India, the game is known by the Urdu language term - Rassa Kasi, meaning pulling the rope. In the low hills of Nepal adjoining  India, the game is known as 'tung dori' or tight rope. The 'u' in tung is like'u'in but.


The sport of tug-of-war has a very long history.  Artwork in a 4000-year-old tomb in Sakkara , Egypt depicts teams of 3 young men pitted against each other in the ropeless version of tug-of-war.

This practice, with or without the rope was carried over into many civilizations , often under ritual forms, such as Burma(Myanmar), Congo, Korea, India, Indonesia, Hawaii, New Guinea and New Zealand.

In Korea local villages used tug of war to settle disputes for centuries.  Each village or township made a straw rope of a prescribed thickness and length. On the day of the contest, the team representatives, sometimes numbering as many as a hundred, brought the rope to the chosen site. All of the ropes were then connected and the tug of war began. One side of the rope was considered female and the other side male. It was hoped that the female side won as it was symbolic of a good harvest.  As a side note, tug of war is depicted on one of the few commemorative coins, the 5,000 won, minted for the Seoul Olympics in 1988.

Tug of war in ancient Greece was practiced both as a competition and as a physical exercise in order to train for other sports. 

At the courts of the Chinese emperors, around 1200 A.D., teams specifically trained for tug of war competed against each other in tournaments.  The Chinese used a Main rope and many side ropes. In the 13th and 14th centuries the Sport was widespread across Aisa. Records exist in Mongolia and Turkey

In medieval Europe , Viking warriors pulled animal skins over open pits of fire, a test of strength and endurance that prepared them for battle.

In the 15th century, tug of war tournaments were frequently held in Scandanavia and later in the remainder of Western Europe .

The modern version of tug-of-war may have descended from sailors on British naval ships, and later those on trading ships traveling to and from India with perishables such as tea.  The men on early naval ships maneuvered the ships by pulling on ropes that adjusted the ship's sails.  The sailors on the fast trading ship, the Cutty Sark, were observed in 1889, while docked in Sydney Harbor, Australia, by a young army officer who on a troop ship on his way to India .  He watched the sailors pulling a form of tug of war on deck while there ship was becalmed.  The boson explained that it was a way of keeping the crews fit, and from the rivalry and great pleasure that the men got from it, he decided to put his men to it, to keep them fit on the long sea journey from England to India.

In India the army put it on the grass, and it quickly became a source of great rivalry between regiments.   It became the favorite sport of the other ranks, who brought it back to England . On leaving the army they took it with them into the police forces and the Fire brigades, and into the factories. Soon it spread across the whole country, displacing anything that had been before.

The name Tug-O-War may come from those crews that hauled on the ropes to power the Man-O-War Ships.

Tug of war became an organized sport at the end of the 19th century when clubs were formed.

When the Olympic Games were revived, tug-of-war was featured on the programme of the Paris Olympic Games in 1900.  International rules became necessary.  They still exist today having undergone very slight modifications.Tug-of-war was always contested as a part of the track and field athletics programme, although it is now considered a separate sport.

The Olympic champions were as follows: 1900: a combined Swedish/Danish team; 1904: an American club team representing the Milwaukee Athletic Club; 1906: Germany/Switzerland; 1908: a British team from the City of London Police Club ; 1912: Sweden ; and 1920: Great Britain.

After the 1920 Games, the International Olympic Committee trimmed the competition program and tug of war's participation was cancelled.  As tug-of-war was no longer on the Olympic Program, national athletic and gymnastic associations were not very interested in tug of war as a discipline.  The tug-of-war teams, at that time, felt that they had to establish their own autonomous association.  The first association was founded in Sweden in 1933.

Other countries followed including Great Britain in 1958 and the Netherlands in 1959.

History of TWIF

Mr GeorgeHutton, Co-Founder TWIF

The Tug-of-War International Federation (TWIF) was formed in 1960 to govern the sport on an international level, under the stewardship of George Hutton of the Great Britain Association and Rudolf Ullmark of Sweden . The First TWIF Meeting was in Sweden in 1964.  The first modern International Event was at the Baltic games in 1964.  TWIF organized its first European Championships in London at Crystal Palace in 1965. After non-European countries had also joined the international federation, TWIF held its first World Championships in 1975 in the Netherlands .  The female competition was first organized at the World Championships in 1986.

The sport of Tug of War has been included in World Games from the first event in Santa Clara , U.S.A. in 1981.  The World Games includes sports which are not included in the Olympic Programme.

History of USATOWA

The United States Amateur Tug of War Association (USATOWA) was formed in 1978.  Its members are located primarily in the upper Midwest .  The USATOWA sent its first team to compete in the World Championships in 1978.

History of UKTOWA

Did you know that Tug-of-War is a properly organised sport?

Its governing body in England is the Tug Of War Association (ToWA). The other UK countries have their own associations. The ToWA was founded in 1958; prior to that the sport was organised within the Amateur Athletic Association. The ToWA and the other UK associations are members of the The Tug of War International Federation (TWIF). The Tug of War Association is the delegated authority for Tug of War in England by Sport England (formerly The Sports Council).

A history of English tug-of-war

On the last day of 1599 Queen Elizabeth the first granted a charter to a group of London merchants allowing them to send ships to the east Indies  to trade as The East India Company.

Those early ships were not the great tea clippers of later years, but they would have been crewed by men that had learned their seafaring ten years earlier on much more dangerous decks fighting the Spanish Armada.

In 1588 Sir John Hawkins designed and built a new type of fighting ship for the English navy. Hawkins's revolutionary design reflected a new approach to naval warfare by increasing their length, cutting down on the width and leveling off their deck lines. Along with the new hull design came new high velocity cannons placed low on the water line.

The new outline was the technological expression of a profound tactical revolution which no longer treated the sailing vessel as a means of conducting land war at sea, but as an instrument of destruction suited to the ocean.

The English sea captains in their trim new warships could outpost,  out    man oeuvre and out sail anything the Spanish had afloat. Their ships swept in close to the huge Spanish galleons and delivered terrible broadsides and then veered off, either to wheel about and thunder in another salvo or move on to the next one.

Spanish Gallantry was recorded by the English as magnificent, but with their ships sunk from under them and half their crews dead, they had nothing left to fight with.

You may ask how does all of this have anything to do with tug of war! The great maneuverability of these ships was supplied by teams of men on the now open decks, pulling on ropes to take in or let out sail much like a modern racing yacht does today. The only difference being that they were  shot at by musket men from the Spanish ships. Imagine trying to pull on the rope and listen to orders with a hail of lead shot hitting the deck all round you.

Down below on the gun decks familiar orders where being shouted out over the noise. When a cannon was ready to fire, it was pulled up tight into the gun port with ropes and pulleys and held there to stop the recoil hurling it back across the deck. In the dark cramped space were the gun crews worked, you had to listen for the voice of the gunnery officer. When he was satisfied the aim was ready, and that depended on the rise and fall of the sea, he shouted, Take the Strain, and as the lighted wand came down on the touch powder, Steady!

It was the only way, and it is still our way, can you think of any other sport that takes four commands to start it.

For the next two hundred years ship design advanced as ever faster ships to bring tea from India were required. The fresher the new season tea the higher the price for the ship owners, as much as ten shillings a ton.

These crews were not press ganged into serving, they were hand picked and offered a share of the profits, so the faster the ship the higher the wages.

Legendary ships and captains came from these times, How good these men were we can only guess at, but one such ship was the Cutty Sark launched at Dunbarton on the Clyde in 1869. For the first 16 years of her life she made only unspectacular runs and was not considered fast enough for the tea trade, so she was employed hauling wool from Australia .

All this changed in 1885 when the 49 year old Richard Woodget, a Norfolk farmer's son, who had sailed the world as seaman,  before accepting his greatest command. Woodget was an intuitive seaman and a born leader and knew exactly how to get the very best from the men, he drove them as hard as he drove the ship, but they worshipped him and strained every sinew for him.

Within a year she became the fastest ship on the sea, the records she set for sail then, still stand for sail today.

On July 26th 1889 she enjoyed her proudest moment when she swept past the crack P & O Steamer Britannia off eastern Australia and docked in Sidney Harbor a full hour before the Britannia steamed in, with her passengers and crew lining the rails to give this remarkable sailing ship a resounding cheer.

With the coming of steam our link with those tough remarkable men may have been lost, but for a young army officer who on a troop ship on his way  to India , watched the sailors pulling a form of tug of war on deck while there ship was becalmed.  The boson explained that it was a way of keeping the crews fit, and from the rivalry and great pleasure that the men got from it, he decide to put his men to it, to keep them fit on the long sea journey from England to India .

In India the army put it on the grass, and it quickly became a source of great rivalry between regiments. The number of men in a team, and the style of pulling culminated in a near deadlock situation, where pulls of two hours were common. Sitting , locking, anything to stop the other side taking rope were used.

The rivalry between the regiments became bitter.  At the end of one pull that lasted four hours some men were near to death. The army realized it must act as the whole thing was getting out of hand. Rather than stop it altogether they set about devising rules that would ban anything that prevented the free movement of the rope, knowing that no man could pull with just his hands for anything like the times that were going on.

Now tug of war entered a golden age. It became the favorite sport of the other ranks, who brought it back to England . On leaving the army they took it with them into the police forces and the Fire brigades  and into the factories. Soon it spread across the whole country, displacing anything that had been before.

The Amateur Athletic Association took it up and added to it. So popular was it that it was included in the first modern Olympics in 1900,  which Sweden won, Sweden being another great seafaring nation.

The games of 1908 were won by England , as they did the last time it appeared in 1920.

On the home front all the early records of the AAA Championships show military and Police teams taking the honors.

Right up until the outbreak of the second world war the services were the driving force behind tug of war in this country. The first Village team to show in the records books were New Haw & Woodham in 1956.

In 1958 it is estimated there were in excess of six hundred teams in the country, though not all the teams joined, the English Tug of War Association was founded. 

History has demonstrated the name Tug-O-War came from those crews that hauled on the ropes to power the Man-O-War Ships. Everything points to this as the one that spread across the world, by way of the English tug of war Association who were one of the founder members of TWIF.

Now over a hundred and fifty years since the army laid it down in its first form, and with many new rules. It still comes to us with much of its naval and army heritage. Army boots are still the approved footwear. The terms number one, anchorman, take the strain, and steady are all words straight off those decks of 1588.

The sheer fitness and skill of teams like those that drove the Cutty Sark into the record books can still excite us today.

Whatever it was that got into their blood, that made them love it so much, still flows through mine, and every tug of war man and woman I know.


Despite   the fact that the game of  tug of war has been popular on the whole of the Asian continent, with some dark pockets of ignorance on the game, yet there has never been any effort to bring about  coordination between the communities participating in this sport .Presently nations like India, Pakistan, Japan, China, Taiwan have been active. There are  other countries, where the knowledge of the game has existed  because of historical reasons, but there  has  no organized activity to bring  together players and sports promoters to get the game into motion.

These nations include, Nepal,  Sri Lanka, Afghanistan, Myanmar, Malaysia, Singapore and  South Korea.

The Tug of War Federation of India (TWFI)  made the first attempt to spread the game beyond its borders by introducing the game in Nepal and helped create the game federation in Nepal. Thereafter the game was introduced in Sri Lanka and its game federation was created. Pakistan already had a game federation. In  Bangladesh  the game was introduced and its game federation was formed.  Efforts  are  underway to introduce the game in Bhutan. Demonstration games  have  been  played  in  Thimphu and  a game federation is likely to come up by the end of this year.

TWFI is keen to support the local efforts of sports promoters in Afghanistan and The Maldives similarly. While undertaking all these efforts it was realized that to bring about year long game activities, it was necessary to get a calendar of game fixture created for friendly  encounters which will help in improving the skills associated with the game. In this direction the representatives of the national federations of Nepal, India and Sri Lanka  met and created the South Asian Tug-of-War Federation with its headquarters in Kathmandu,Nepal

This game federation has kept the SAARC nations as its original members and will add the nations in the region not yet having game federations as and when they are formed when they introduce the game.,  In the  on going  South Asian Games, the NOC-SA Games accepted the request of SATWF  to allow  holding of a demonstration  sport event to expose the game to a wider South Asia audience. The fixture will see bouts between local Sri Lanka men and women  teams  pitted  with  composite teams of men and  women created by SATWF. The total event will last not more then 15 minutes and will be telecast as part of the main sports program.

Rules : The TWIF rules for play Tug-of-War International Competition, as accepted by the  South Asian Tug-of-War Federation without changing the original concept of the Tug-of-War International competition.

South Asian Tug-of-War Competition : The first South Asian Tug-of-War Championships for men & Women of the new federation was staged at the Siddhartha Nagar, Nepal in 2004, where the national Federation participated with three countries; Nepal, India and Bangladesh. After  the competition in the Nepal, SATWF in 2005 organized its Gold Cup International Tug of War Championship in Gampha, Sri Lanka  and Rajiv Gandhi International Tug-of-War TWFI-Cup Championships held at New Delhi , India in December,2005. The SATWF not holding the regular competition for economical reasons Continental-and South Asian Championships are not staged every year, but alternating, one year continental/goodwill meet and the other year South Asian Championships.

Guinness book of World Record

Tug of War  (Guinness book of World Records.)

The longest recorded pull is one of 2 hours , 41 minutes between 'H' Company and 'E' Company of the Second Battalion of the Sherwood Foresters (Derbyshire Regiment) at Jubbulpore, India on August 12, 1889, prior to the A.A.A.rules.(Guinness Book of World Records.)


Credit: IOC Olympic Museum Collections FE PAST

Sports no longer practiced at the Olympic Games


Tug-of-War was on the Olympic programme in 1900, 1904, 1906 (Intercalated Games), 1908, 1912 and 1920. Tug-of-war was always contested as a part of the track and field athletics programme, although it is now considered a separate sport.

The Olympic champions were as follows:

1900:a combined Swedish/Danish team

1904 Saint-Louis : An American club team representing the Milwaukee Athletic Club

1906 Germany/Switzerland

1908: a British team from the City of London Police Club

1912: Sweden

1920: Great Britain

Saint-Louis 1904  Olympic– Tug-of-War competition

Paris 3-4 June 1900. View of the velodrome de Vincennes during the Federal Meeting of the Union of Gymnastics Associations of France.

The Games of 1900 were held in Paris as part of the Exposition Universelle Internationale - the Paris World’s Fair. The exposition organizers spread the events over five months and de-emphasized their Olympic status to such an extent that many athletes died without ever knowing that they had participated in the Olympics.

Women made their first appearance in the modern Games. The first to compete were Mme. Brohy and Mlle. Ohnier of France in croquet. The first female champion was in tennis: Charlotte Cooper of Great Britain. Tennis was one of five sports in which athletes from different nations competed on the same team. The others were football, polo, rowing and tug of war. Alvin Kraenzlein won four athletics events in three days and, on 16 July, Ray Ewry, who had overcome childhood polio, won three championships in one day - all in the standing jump events.

24 NOCs (Nations)

997 athletes (22 women, 975 men)

95 events


Paris 3 June 1900, Games of the II Olympiad. Gymnasts parade in the "Vélodrome de Vincennes" during the Federal Meeting of the Union of Gymnastics Associations of France.

ST LOUIS  1904

Games of the III Olympiad

The 1904 St. Louis Olympics organizers repeated all of the mistakes of 1900. The Olympic competitions, spread out over four and a half months, were lost in the chaos of a World’s Fair. Of the 94 events generally considered to have been part of the Olympic program, only 42 included athletes who were not from the United States. The 1904 Olympics did have a few highlights. They were the first at which gold, silver and bronze medals were awarded for first, second and third place. Boxing and freestyle wrestling made their debuts. Marathon runners Len Tau and Jan Mashiani, Tswana tribesmen who were in St. Louis as part of the Boer War exhibit at the World’s Fair, became the first Africans to compete in the Olympics. One of the most remarkable athletes was the American gymnast George Eyser, who won six medals even though his left leg was made of wood. Chicago runner James Lightbody won the steeplechase and the 800m and then set a world record in the 1,500m.

12 NOCs (Nations)

651 athletes (6 women, 645 men)

91 events


Games of the V Olympiad

Held in Stockholm, the 1912 Olympics were a model of efficiency. The Swedish hosts introduced the use of unofficial electronic timing devices for the track events, as well as the first use of a public address system. The modern pentathlon was added to the Olympic program. Women's events in swimming and diving were also introduced. Sweden would not allow boxing contests to be held in their country. After the Games, the International Olympic Committee decided to limit the power of host nations in deciding the Olympic program. If there was an unofficial theme of the 1912 Games, it was endurance. The course for the cycling road race was 320km (199 miles), the longest race of any kind in Olympic history. In Greco-Roman wrestling, the middleweight semifinal match between Russian Martin Klein and Finland’s Alfred Asikainen lasted eleven hours. Hannes Kohlemainen of Finland won three gold medals in long-distance running. The most popular hero of the 1912 Games was Jim Thorpe of the United States. Thorpe won the five-event pentathlon and shattered the world record in the ten-event decathlon. One member of the Austrian team that finished second in the team sabre fencing event was Otto Herschmann, who was, at that time, president of the Austrian Olympic Committee. Herschmann is the only sitting national Olympic committee president to win an Olympic medal.

28 NOCs (Nations)

2,407 athletes (48 women, 2,359 men)

102 events


Games of the VII Olympiad

The 1916 Olympics were scheduled to be held in Berlin, but were canceled because of what came to be known as World War I. The 1920 Games were awarded to Antwerp to honor the suffering that had been inflicted on the Belgian people during the war. The Opening Ceremony was notable for the introduction of the Olympic flag and the presentation of the Athletes’ Oath. In a performance unequaled in Olympic history, Nedo Nadi of Italy earned gold medals in five of the six fencing events. Ethelda Bleibtrey of the United States won gold medals in all three women’s swimming contests. Including preliminary heats, she swam in five races and broke the world record in every one. France’s Suzanne Lenglen dominated women’s tennis singles so completely that she lost only four games in the ten sets she played. At age 72, Swedish shooter Oscar Swahn earned a silver medal in the team double-shot running deer event to become the oldest medalist ever. The 1920 12-foot dinghy sailing event was the only event in Olympic history to be held in two countries. The first race was staged in Belgium, but the last two races took place in the Netherlands because both entrants were Dutch.

29 NOCs (Nations)

2,626 athletes (65 women, 2,561 men)

154 events