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Argentina Visitors’ Guide

Playing pato in Argentina

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Pato in Argentina

Pato, or “duck” in Spanish, is a unique Argentine sport that has quite and interesting and long history. Since 1953, it has been the official national sport of this South American country.

Though nobody knows exactly when the game began, there are written accounts of it from as early as 1610. In the original game, a live duck was sewn into a leather skin, making a ball, but with its head left hanging out. The way the leather was sewn, handles were left to tug on, and the game began with two of the strongest players tugging on the handles, until one gained control of the ball.

At that point, the player would take off running, on horseback, in the direction of his goal, being closely followed by the other team, who would then tug the ball away, again. The point was for one team to make it all the way to their “goal” with the ball. The game was usually played between two neighboring ranches, or estancias, and the team to first reach their ranch house was declared the winner.

Of course, the game has changed greatly over time, but the principles remain the same. The original game was very risky, and much violence was involved. Of course, the treatment of the poor duck was anything but humane, but players were also often trampled, or, more frequently, killed in the knife fights that would break out mid-game. As a result, many ordinances were passed in the 19th century, prohibiting the game, although that didn’t always stop its practice.

Finally, in the 1930s, Alberto del Castillo Posse, a ranch owner, worked hard to draft a set of rules, based on the current practices, with inspiration from modern day polo. With new legitimacy, President Juan Peron declared the historical game as the national game of Argentina in 1953.

Today, the ball (known as a pato) contains no live (or dead, for that matter) ducks, but does retain its six conveniently sized handles. Two teams of four members each ride on horseback, trying to tug the ball away from the other team. If one has possession of the pato, he is required to ride with his hand outstretched, allowing for other players to try to steal it away. At the end, they must deposit the pato into a vertical, basketball hoop-like ring at opposing ends of the field.

Pato has a long, rich history in Argentina. It is similar to horseball, which is played in countries such as France and Portugal, but is still a unique game. Within Argentina, it is played both competitively and by amateurs, but mostly at weekend fairs and rodeos.

Check for other sports like Polo in this Argentina travel guide.

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