Tug-of-War History

Also known as tug o' war, tug war, rope war,

rope pulling, or tugging war, tug-of-war is a sport

that directly pits two teams against each other in

a test of strength.


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 emporers, 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 India, tug-of-war is depicted on

a relief found on the Sun Temple of Konark, which was built in the12th

Centruy A.D. detail of relief appears below.

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 Programme, 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.

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.