Chinlone (Burmese for caneball) is a traditional sport of Myanmar. It involves a group of players using the best of their skill and style to keep a ball made of woven cane from the ground. Players can touch the ball with any part of the body except the hands and arms. Five players rotate slowly in a circle while a sixth member of the team comes to the centre of the circle and performs a sequence of their best moves. When that player’s turn is over, they pass the ball to the next player who takes their place in the centre of the circle. The movement as a whole shows a lot of fluidity and looks similar to a dance as much as a ball game.
The sport requires extreme flexibility, agility and fitness as well as exceptional coordination.Chinlone is said to have started out as a form of entertainment for the royal Burmese court over 1,000 years ago. During colonial times, it was considered by the British to be more no more than a game due its apparent lack of competition. In the years after independence, the popularity of chinlone was promoted heavily as the government went about establishing programmes to restore pride in Burmese culture and traditions.
Nowadays, chinlone is played by men and women, young and old alike. It is a very common scene in both urban and rural areas to witness a circle of men- barefoot with their longyis hiked up and wrapped around their legs and waists- spending the final hours of daylight in intense concentration passing the ball around, honing their skills and getting some exercise with friends. This casual form of the sport hops right up to a formal and more competitive form at the annual Waso Chinlone Festival held in a small stadium in the grounds of the famous Mahamuni Pagoda in Mandalay. This festival takes place for a month around the full moon of Waso (falling on July 8th this year). Teams from all over the country travel to Mandalay to perform to live, loud and rhythmic traditional Burmese music at this festival. A commentator provides lively narration on what the players are doing while panel of judges rates them on their style and form. They perform as a team but not against any other team. For the first time, chinlone was an official sport at the SEA Games hosted by Myanmar in 2013 when Myanmar won gold medals in six out of eight categories.