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Thursday, January 20, 2022

After kicking off the ‘Mayan ball game’ World Cup in Mérida, Belize takes the trophy

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Carlos Rosado van der Gracht
Born in Mérida, Carlos Rosado van der Gracht is a Mexican/Canadian blogger, photographer and adventure expedition leader. He holds degrees in multimedia, philosophy and translation from universities in Mexico, Canada and Norway. Sign up for the Yucatán Roundup, a free newsletter, which delivers the week's top headlines every Monday.
Opening Ceremonies during the Pok ta Pok 2021 World Cup celebrated in Mérida, Yucatán. Photo: Courtesy

Belize took home the prize after Mérida kicked off an international Pok ta Pok tournament, also known as the “Mayan ball game” World Cup. 

Participating in the tournament, which started Thursday, were a handful of international teams including delegations from Belize, Guatemala, and Panamá. 

The two-day tournament wrapped up Saturday at Mérida’s Estadio Polifuncional. 

Belize’s team took a strong early lead, winning four matches in a row against two Guatemalan teams, as well Panamá and Mexico. Their victory was a three-peat. Previously Ek’ Balam Belize won the 2017 and 2019 Maya ball game championships.

This is not the first time that Yucatán has hosted the Pok ta Pok world cup, as it also did so back in 2015.

Pok ta Pok traces its origins back to ancient Mesoamerica. During the game, players struck the ball with their hips through an elevated stone hoop. 

Earlier: Paraíso: One of Yucatán’s best-kept archaeological secrets

However, some versions allowed the use of forearms, rackets, or bats. The ball was made of solid rubber and weighed as much as 4 kilograms / 9 pounds.

During antiquity, Pok ta Pok was best described as a ceremony and widely believed to be metaphorical for the constant battle between the forces of good and evil —  life and death. 

In some places, ritual sacrifice was a component of the ceremony, with war captives being the most common victims. But you won’t see any of that at the World Cup.

A highly dramatized reenactment of the Pok ta Pok “game” in Xcaret, Quintana Roo. Photo: Carlos Rosado van der Gracht

In recent decades, the playing of Pok ta Pok has become a tourist attraction across much of the Yucatán Peninsula, with exhibitions being staged at theme parks like Xcaret, but also notably in Mérida on Wednesdays across from the city’s cathedral

The largest and most famous ancient Pok ta Pok venue is the Grand Ballcourt in Chichén Itzá, though hundred of others are known to exist across Mesoamerica and as far north as the southern United States.

For France Novelo, a player from Belize, the all-male Pok ta Pok is “a way to rescue culture in our country.”

Jose Manrique, president of the Central American and Caribbean Association of the Ancestral Sport of the Mayan Ball, added: “We have to honor the memory of our grandparents, we have to honor our Mayan gods. That is why the ball game continues to be a ceremony for us.”

The previous games were held in Chichen Itza, Mexico, in 2015, Guatemala in 2017 and El Salvador in 2019.

With information from AFP

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