Many sports are practiced in Iran, both traditional and modern. Tehran, for example, was the first city in West Asia to host the Asian Games in 1974, and continues to host and participate in major international sporting events to this day. Freestyle wrestling has been traditionally regarded as Iran’s national sport, however today, football is the most popular sport in Iran.
Wrestling has a very long tradition and history in Iran and often even referred to as its national sport. There are many styles of folk wrestling, from Varzesh-e Pahlavani to Zurkhaneh which have similarities with modern freestyle wrestling.
Both freestyle and Greco-Roman wrestling, particularly freestyle, are popular in Iran. Mazandaran is the main power in the country and wrestling is part of its culture. Tehran, Kermanshah, Khorasan and Hamedan also produce many talented wrestlers.
With a history of great wrestlers, such as Gholamreza Takhti (two-time champion at freestyle wrestling World Championships: 1959 and 1961), Iran is considered among the elite nations in this sport.
It is believed that Polo first originated in Persia ages ago. The poet Firdowsi described royal polo tournaments in his 9th century epic, the Shahnameh. Polo competitions are the subject of many traditional paintings in Iran.
Despite the emphasis in Islam on learning the equestrian arts, in modern times, especially after the 1979 Iranian revolution, the equestrian sports fell out of favor in Iran, as they were associated with the aristocracy. However, recent signs suggest that it may be witnessing a comeback, with renewed interest in the sport.
Horse racing is a very popular sport between Turkmens of Iran, and there are two great Gymnasium of horse racing at Gonbad Kavous and Bandar Torkaman. Competitions are not international and not broadcast but considerable prizes are given to winners. Lottery only for horse racing (and archery) is not prohibited in Islam
Takhteh Nard: Backgammon is the name by which Takhteh Nard meaning “Battle on Wood” is known outside Iran. This traditional board game is believed to have originated in Mesopotamia in the ancient Persian Empire. In earlier times, the game was played on wooden boards or tables with flat stones with numbered dice crafted from wood, stone, pottery and even bone.
This game too fell out of official favor after the Revolution. Its popularity with the modern day generation in Iran however continues to be high and it’s extremely popular in the countries of the Far East as well as Greece and Italy. The oldest backgammon with 60 pieces was discovered in South Eastern Iran, thereby substantiating the claim that the game originated in Persia.