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The Most Controversial Sports In the World

What qualifies as “sports”? Well, it depends on who you ask. In most cases, “sports” means physical activities involving skill, training, and competition. Then again, chess is also a sport, even if it has nothing to do with physical competition, and so is poker – well, at least its variant called Match Poker designed to eliminate as much chance as possible from the game.

There are, in turn, activities that involve physical activity and competition yet they not only don’t qualify as sports in most places but in some jurisdictions, they are even illegal. These are perhaps the most controversial “sports” that are practised today.


Cockfighting in Thailand is one of the most popular activities. And not just there – it has been popular throughout history across many cultures, from Egypt to India, and it is practised even today in several countries around the world, like India, Indonesia, and the Philippines.

Its controversial nature comes from the “fighters” involved – or rather what happens to them. The roosters pitted against each other in a ring often cause horrific injuries, especially with the metallic spurs fastened to their feet. Animal welfare activists consider it a cruel practice and fight for it to be banned across the board – but the issue is sensitive because the activity often involves spiritual and religious habits, too.

Cockfighting is legal in Cuba, Dominica, Haiti, India and Indonesia (only in certain areas and in a religious setting), France (only where an uninterrupted tradition exists for them), Mexico (only in certain areas), Pakistan, and Peru, and strictly prohibited in the Netherlands, United States, and pretty much everywhere else.

BASE jumping

First of all, let’s clear up a misunderstanding: BASE in this case is an acronym composed of the names of objects that its practitioners jump from: Buildings, Antennas, Spans (bridges), and Earth (cliffs, mountaintops, crevasses, and so on). It is an extreme sport – and in this case, “extreme” should be taken literally: its practitioners jump from various objects and landmarks and usually only deploy their parachutes after a lengthy period of free fall. Some of them use wingsuits to “fly” for a while before finishing the jump with the parachute.


BASE jumping is permitted, even encouraged in some areas – it is, in turn, banned in others. The reason might surprise you: it’s not because of its dangers (BASE jumping is the most hazardous extreme sport of them all, with one fatality, on average, for every 60 jumps) but because of the complicated and dangerous rescue missions needed to retrieve them.


For some, bullfighting is a beautiful act of tradition. For others, it’s outright animal abuse. There is something charming about the matador performing an entire ceremony that involves dancing around and leaping over a bull in the arena… but if you think of how the performance will end, the entire performance turns into a dark ritual slaughter.


Bullfighting is illegal in most of the world. The exceptions are most areas of Spain and Portugal, some parts of Southern France, and Hispano-American countries where the tradition lives on… even if sometimes against the will of the people. In Mexico, for example, bullfighting is still legal, even though a poll conducted in 2012 has shown that 70% of the population would rather have it banned.



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