Turkey’s female cirit players on hunt for competition

Members of Turkey’s only all-female cirit team must compete against men due to the lack of other female athletes who play the equestrian sport.
The women of the Uşak Women’s Equestrian Sports Club’s cirit team recently finished a scrimmage match with a male cirit team as part of the Spring Festival in Uşak’s Ulubey district, held to benefit orphans and persons with disabilities. The match ended with a win for the men’s team. In a statement to the press following the match, Uşak Women’s Equestrian Sports Club Team Captain Aysun Yılmaz (29) said the lack of female competition is a major problem for her team.
Cirit is a sport played by teams on horseback, who attempt to hit each other with blunt-tipped wooden javelins. It came to Turkey from Central Asia and was popular among the Ottoman Empire’s cavalry.
Explaining that over the course of the past seven years, through competitions in various provinces, her team had proved their mettle in scrimmage matches, Yılmaz said: “We are the children of mothers and fathers who were cirit players. In each of our families, there is at least one other person who played or plays cirit. In the area we grew up in, horses were like part of our families. Eventually we asked, well why can’t women play cirit? And we came together seven years ago to do this.”

The first team of women cirit players was highly successful, Yılmaz explained, but soon ran into trouble. “The women that married stopped showing up for matches because their husbands didn’t give them permission to play. The team was constantly being reassembled. Right now, the club has seven athletes. The youngest female cirit player is 16 years old. We’re trying with the means at our disposal to bring this equestrian sport to prominence. We don’t all have horses; we ride the men’s team’s horses and train with them. From time to time, we participate in scrimmages like these. Our aim is to introduce cirit and make it loved,” she said.
Another of the team’s members, Seda Yıldırım (20), explained the difficulty they faced because of the lack of other women’s cirit teams in Turkey. The university student, who has been riding horses for 10 years, said: “It’s hard to play matches with men -- their arms are much stronger and they’re able to throw harder. We’re as good as they are on horseback, but the spears we throw don’t go as far; this makes it hard for us.”
Yıldırım expressed hope that rumors of women’s cirit teams assembling in other parts of Turkey will prove true. “I hope the number of women cirit players increases; then we’ll play with them. And I think that one day we will also beat the men,” she said.