World Library  
Flag as Inappropriate
Email this Article

Tug of war

Tug of war
Ireland 600 kg team in the European Championships 2009
Highest governing body Tug of War International Federation
Nicknames TOW
First played Ancient
Contact Non-contact
Team members Eight (or more)
Mixed gender Separate competitions
Type Team sport, outdoor/indoor
Equipment Rope
Olympic Part of the Summer Olympic programme from 1900 to 1920

Tug of war (also known as tug o' war, tug war, rope war, rope pulling, or tugging war) is a sport that directly pits two teams against each other in a test of strength.


  • Terminology 1
  • Origins 2
  • As a sport 3
  • National organizations 4
  • International examples 5
  • Formal rules 6
  • Tactics 7
  • Injury risks 8
    • 1997 arm severing incident 8.1
  • References 9
  • Bibliography 10
  • External links 11


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.[1]


A tug of war between asuras and devas.[2] (Angkor Wat, Cambodia)

The origins of tug of war are uncertain, but it is beyond dispute that this once royal sport was practised in ancient Egypt, Greece and China, where it was held in legend that the Sun and Moon played Tug of War over the light and darkness. It is also widely believed the sport was made popular in Great Britain by Lord Elliott Simpson, in the 16th Century. Simpson was a keen tugger.[3]

According to a Tang dynasty book, The Notes of Feng, tug of war, under the name "hook pulling" (牽鉤), was used by the military commander of the State of Chu during the Spring and Autumn Period (8th century BC to 5th century BC) to train warriors. During the Tang dynasty, Emperor Xuanzong of Tang promoted large-scale tug of war games, using ropes of up to 167 metres (548 ft) with shorter ropes attached, and more than 500 people on each end of the rope. Each side also had its own team of drummers to encourage the participants.[4]

In ancient Greece the sport was called helkustinda (Greek: ἑλκυστίνδα), efelkustinda (ἐφελκυστίνδα) and dielkustinda (διελκυστίνδα),[5] which derives from dielkō (διέλκω), meaning amongst others "I pull through",[6] all deriving from the verb helkō (ἕλκω), "I draw, I pull".[7] Helkustinda and efelkustinda seem to have been ordinary versions of tug of war, while dielkustinda had no rope, according to Julius Pollux.[8] It is possible that the teams held hands when pulling, which would have increased difficulty, since handgrips are more difficult to sustain than a grip of a rope. Tug of war games in ancient Greece were among the most popular games used for strength and would help build strength needed for battle in full armor.[9]

Archeological evidence shows that tug of war was also popular in India in the 12th century:

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.[10]
Women in a tug of war, at the annual Pushkar Fair, Rajasthan

Tug of war stories about heroic champions from Scandinavia and Germany circulate Western Europe where Viking warriors pull on 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 popularised during tournaments in French châteaux 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 under way and even in battle.[11]

The Mohave Indians occasionally used tug-of-war matches as means of settling disputes.[12]

As a sport

Tug of war competition in 1904 Summer Olympics

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 part of the World Games. The Tug of War International Federation (TWIF), organises 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.

Between 1976 and 1988 Tug of War was a regular event during the television series Battle of the Network Stars. Teams of celebrities representing each major network competed in different sporting events culminating into the final event, the Tug of War. Lou Ferrigno's epic tug-o'-war performance in May 1979 is considered the greatest feat in 'Battle' history.

National organizations

Harvard Tug of War team, 1888

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 Scotland, Ireland, England, India, Switzerland, Belgium, and the United States.

International examples

  • In the Basque Country this sport is considered a popular rural sport, with many associations and clubs. In Basque it is called Sokatira.
  • Each Fourth of July, two California towns separated by an ocean channel Stinson Beach, California and Bolinas, California gather to compete in an annual tug-of-war.[13][14]
  • A special edition of the Superstars television series, called "The Superteams", features 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 versions of the Gladiators television series, although the game was played with two sole opposing participants.
  • In Japan, the tug of war (綱引き in Japanese) is a staple of school sports festivals.
  • In Indonesia, Tarik Tambang is a popular sport held in many events, such as the Indonesian Independence Day celebration, school events, and scout events. The rope used is called dadung, made from fibers of lar between two jousters. Two cinder blocks are placed a distance apart and the two jousters stand upon the blocks with a rope stretched between them. The objective for each jouster is to either a) cause their opponent to fall off their block, or b) to take their opponent's end of the rope from them.[15]
  • A form of tug-of-war, called juldarigi, is an important part of many agricultural festivals in Korea.

Formal rules

The Dutch team at the 2006 World Championships

Two teams of eight, whose total mass must not exceed a maximum weight as determined for the class, align themselves at the end of a rope approximately 11 centimetres (4.3 in) in circumference. The rope is marked with a "centre line" and two markings 4 metres (13 ft) 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 is touching the ground for extended periods of time. The rope must go under the arms; actions such as pulling the rope over the shoulders may be considered a foul. These rules apply in highly organized competitions such as the World Championships. However, in small or informal entertainment competitions, the rules are often arbitrarily interpreted and 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.


Tug of war at the Highland Games in Stirling

Aside from the raw muscle power needed for tug of war, it is also a technical sport. The cooperation or "rhythm" of team members play an equally important role in victory, if not more, than their physical strength. To achieve this, a person called a "driver" is used to harmonize the team's joint traction power. He moves up and down next to his team pulling on the rope, giving orders to them when to pull and when to rest (called "hanging"). If he spots the opponents tries to pull his team away, he gives a "hang" command, each member will dig into the grass with his/her boots and movement of the rope is limited. When the opponents are played out, he shouts "pull" and rhythmically waves his hat or handkerchief for his team to pull together. Slowly but surely, the other team is forced into surrender by a runaway pull.

Injury risks

In addition to injuries from falling and from breaking strength of common ropes, and may thus be unaware of the possible consequences if a rope snaps under extreme tension. The broken ends of a rope made with a somewhat elastic polymer such as common nylon can reach high speeds, and can easily sever fingers. For this reason, specially engineered tug of war ropes exist that can safely withstand the forces generated.

Some notable tug of war accidents include:[16]

  • Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, June 13, 1978, rope snapped, five teenagers lost fingers or fingertips, 200 other injuries.
  • Chattanooga, Tennessee, June 9, 1995, a man had his hand torn off (avulsion) by sudden pull (his hand was in a loop).
  • Westernohe, Germany, June, 1995, 2 10-year-old children died and 102 participants suffered injuries in a tug of war with 650 young scouts.
  • Taipei, Taiwan, October 25, 1997, rope snapped, two men suffered arm amputations (details below).
  • Australia, September, 2002, 11-year-old boy had several fingers cut to the bone and nearly severed.
  • Denver, Colorado, October 12, 2007, two teenage boys, rope looped around hands, suffered hand amputations.
  • Digby, Nova Scotia, October 25, 2010, rope looped around hand, man lost four fingers.
  • El Monte, California, February 4, 2013, rope snapped, teenage boy and girl each suffered multi-finger amputations.
  • Budapest, Hungary, September 17, 2013, rope snapped, seven student injured, three of them severely.

1997 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 tug-of-war event in Taipei, Taiwan. The event, held at a park along the Keelung River in Taipei in celebration of Retrocession Day (the 52nd anniversary of the end of the Japanese colonial rule in Taiwan), involved over 1,600 participants whose combined strength exerted over 80,000 kilograms (180,000 lb) of force on a 5-centimetre (2.0 in) nylon rope that could only withstand a maximum of 26,000 kilograms (57,000 lb). The rope snapped, and the sheer rebounding force of the broken rope tore off the men's arms. Both men were taken to a nearby hospital where their arms were successfully reattached following several hours of microsurgery.[17][18][19][20][21]


  1. ^ Oxford English Dictionary
  2. ^ The bas-relief of the Churning of the Sea of Milk shows Vishnu in the centre, his turtle avatar Kurma below, asuras and devas to left and right, and apsaras and Indra above.
  3. ^
  4. ^ Tang dynasty Feng Yan: Notes of Feng, volume 6
  5. ^ διελκυστίνδα, Henry George Liddell, Robert Scott, A Greek-English Lexicon, on Perseus
  6. ^ διέλκω, Henry George Liddell, Robert Scott, A Greek-English Lexicon, on Perseus
  7. ^ ἕλκω, Henry George Liddell, Robert Scott, A Greek-English Lexicon, on Perseus
  8. ^ Pollux, 9.112
  9. ^ Jaime Marie Layne, The Enculturative Function of Toys and Games in Ancient Greece and Rome, ProQuest, UMI Dissertation Publishing, 2011
  10. ^ Tug of War Federation of India: History
  11. ^ Equity Gaming: History of Tug of War
  12. ^
  13. ^ /
  14. ^ Mary Hirt, Irene Ramos (2008), "Rope Jousting", Maximum Middle School Physical Education, p. 144,  
  15. ^ Teens recovering after losing fingers during tug-of-war match, Associated Press (reprinted in National Post, February 5, 2013.
  16. ^ Two Men Lose Arms in tug-of-war, The Nation, October 27, 1997 (available at
  17. ^ Tug-of-war: accident leaves arms hanging and mayor apologetic(powerpull tug of war ropes are now used in schools and summer camps because of there safe built-in us patented safety features that eliminate all the problems that the rope has been involved with tug of war is the greatest teamwork and cooperation game it is the rope that is the problem all sports have improved there equipment baseball,football,basketball,soccer,golf and now tug of war has a safe rope powerpull tug of war rope) (China Times Tue, Oct 28, 1997 edition (available at
  18. ^ Taiwanese doctors reattach arms ripped off in tug-of-war, Boca Raton News, October 27, 1997, Page 7A, (available as new
  19. ^ Two men lose arms in tug-of-war, The Straits Times, October 26, 1997, Page 20, AFP.
  20. ^ Disarmed - Disarmanent at


Henning Eichberg, "Pull and tug: Towards a philosophy of the playing ‘You’", in: Bodily Democracy: Towards a Philosophy of Sport for All, London: Routledge 2010, 180-199.

External links

  • Tug of War International Federation
  • The Tug of War Association (England)
  • Tug of War (, via Wayback Machine, Internet Archive): list of winners in the main championships
This article was sourced from Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike License; additional terms may apply. World Heritage Encyclopedia content is assembled from numerous content providers, Open Access Publishing, and in compliance with The Fair Access to Science and Technology Research Act (FASTR), Wikimedia Foundation, Inc., Public Library of Science, The Encyclopedia of Life, Open Book Publishers (OBP), PubMed, U.S. National Library of Medicine, National Center for Biotechnology Information, U.S. National Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health (NIH), U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, and, which sources content from all federal, state, local, tribal, and territorial government publication portals (.gov, .mil, .edu). Funding for and content contributors is made possible from the U.S. Congress, E-Government Act of 2002.
Crowd sourced content that is contributed to World Heritage Encyclopedia is peer reviewed and edited by our editorial staff to ensure quality scholarly research articles.
By using this site, you agree to the Terms of Use and Privacy Policy. World Heritage Encyclopedia™ is a registered trademark of the World Public Library Association, a non-profit organization.

Copyright © World Library Foundation. All rights reserved. eBooks from Project Gutenberg are sponsored by the World Library Foundation,
a 501c(4) Member's Support Non-Profit Organization, and is NOT affiliated with any governmental agency or department.