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Wednesday, June 7, 2023

Mexican teams compete for a chance at Pok ta Pok World Cup

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Carlos Rosado van der Gracht
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.
Tracing its history back thousands of years, the sacred ceremony of Pok ta Pok has been making a comeback over the past several years in the form of a competitive sport. Photo: Carlos Rosado van der Gracht / Yucatán Magazine

A handful of teams from around the Yucatán Peninsula will compete this weekend to qualify for the 2023 Pok ta Pok World Cup.

The matches in Dzibalché, Campeche include Yucatecan teams from San Pedro Chimay, Chapab, and Umán. The three-day Pok ta Pok World Cup starts Dec. 7 in Belize City.

The location for the competition is likely the result of the Belizean team’s domination of the tournament, as they have now accumulated four consecutive championship wins. 

The event will attract 18 teams from Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras, Panamá, Mexico, and the United States.

For the first time ever, there will also be a competition featuring female athletes, though the number of teams participating is yet to be confirmed. 

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

Earlier: Let’s talk about that ‘Mayan scoreboard’ found at Chichén Itzá

However, some versions are allowed to use 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. 

A  wooden tableau made by an artisan depicts the Pok ta Pok in Chichén Itzá. Photo: Carlos Rosado van der Gracht / Yucatán Magazine

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 2023 World Cup.

Mesoamerican ball courts have been found as far north as Arizona and south as Nicaragua. Over the past few decades, the Pok ta Pok has become a popular tourist spectacle, but the ceremony is still practiced by a handful of communities in Mexico, including the Ulama of Sinaloa.

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.

Participants taking part in the reenactment wear loincloths, headdresses, conch jewelry, body paints, and little else. Photo: Courtesy