For centuries, burly Turkish men have competed in the sport of oil wrestling. A tradition dating back to the Turks' exodus from Central Asia, the athletic competition is simple: Wrestlers coat themselves with olive oil and attempt to pin each other to the ground. A common tactic is to stick a hand down an opponent's leather trousers to get a better grip.
This year's oil wrestling tournament isn't scheduled to happen until next month, but the competition is already filled with controversy. Organizers are not pleased with advance interest in the event -- in particular from a bunch of burly homosexual men called the "Bears of Turkey" who plan to attend.
The "Bears of Turkey"'s Web site offers a group tour of Istanbul and the 639th Kirkpinar Oil Wrestling Games 2000. For $365 per person (for a double room, that is), burly gay men can visit Istanbul and the surrounding area for five days. The highlight of the tour will be a private coach ride on July 1 and 2 to the wrestling championship "at the beautiful and historical Sarayigi Island on the Tunca River in Edirne."
The visual impact of observing two bare-chested men grunting and straining under the hot Turkish sun, their rippling muscles glistening with fresh olive oil, will surely not be lost on this group of sightseers. And when one wrestler sticks his oily hand down the leather pants of another, the tour will undoubtedly be worth every penny to the Bears of Turkey.
"It's immoral," Traditional Sports Federation chairman Alper Yazoglu told the Anatolian news agency. "We are trying every way to have this stopped ... We shall pass this matter on to the Interior, Foreign and other ministries to ask for this disgusting business to be stopped."
Despite the controversy, the Bears of Turkey continue to promote their tour. In addition to the two-day wrestling championship, which includes the Golden Belt Award Ceremony, the package features four-star accommodations at an Istanbul hotel, a visit to a Turkish bath, wine and cheese receptions and assorted entertainment in gay bars.
To increase interest in the trip, the Bears of Turkey Web site boasts many color photographs of previous wrestling events.