Griffith Sikh Games draw thousands to regional NSW to celebrate sport, food and culture

About 15,000 people converge on a regional Australian town for one of the country’s most popular Sikh sporting events, but with food being a central part of the cultural event, a mammoth effort is being made to feed everyone… for free.

The Griffith Sikh Games draw people from across Australia and overseas to the southern New South Wales city to watch athletes compete over the Queen’s Birthday long weekend.

But while sport is the main attraction, people also come to celebrate culture and food, with event organizers this year trucking in two tonnes of onions, three tonnes of soil and 700 liters of milk for the two-day event.

Griffith Councilor and organizer of the event, Manjit Lally, said it was made possible with support and donations from Sikh communities across the country.

“Three or four years ago we couldn’t keep up with the demand, now we’re getting help from the cities too,” he said.

A man in a turban stands on a sports field and smiles
Manjit Lally says the Sikh games are for the whole community.(ABC Riverina: Romy Stephens)

We are “one community”

Gurdarshan Singh hails from Melbourne’s Sikh community and first went to the Games – also known as the Griffith Shaheedi Tournament – ​​10 years ago to help.

He said the event was created to honor martyrs who sacrificed their lives for Sikh beliefs and values.

A man with a blue headscarf is stirring a large pot of food with a stick
A large amount of food is prepared for the Sikh games and then distributed for free.(ABC Riverina: Romy Stephens)

It is the 24th time the games will be played, having been canceled due to COVID-19 for the past two years.

“They started this 26 years ago and the community started coming here in remembrance of all the martyrdom we call Shaheeds,” Mr Singh said.

“We were advised to bring tea, coffee and hot milk for everyone.

“We have more than 700 liters [of milk] for today [and] We bake around 700 bread packages.”

He said one of the principles of the Sikh community is to support “everyone”.

A man attacks another man in front of a crowd
Kabaddi is a traditional Punjabi sport played during the event.(ABC Riverina: Shannon Corvo)

A celebration of culture

Kamal Maan traveled from Melbourne to attend the Sikh Games but was originally from Punjab in northern India.

A woman with large gold earrings is standing near a sports field
Kamal Maan lives in Melbourne but is originally from Punjab in northern India.(ABC Riverina: Shannon Corvo)

She emigrated to Australia to provide a better future for her children and believed the games gave them an opportunity to learn about their culture.

“These kinds of events, going to the temple, teaching them the traditions and everything, they’re going to learn the culture,” Ms. Maan said.

Maninder Singh Rakhra is from Canberra and brought his mother Manjeet Kaur who had traveled all the way from India to attend the Sikh Games.

“We love seeing our community here in Griffith every year,” said Mr. Rakhra.

He also translated on behalf of Ms. Kaur, who spoke little English.

“I love it,” Ms. Kaur said.

“Thank you for bringing us here.”

A man with a black turban, a boy with a black sweater and a woman with a white cap
Maninder Singh Rakhra’s mother [far right] traveled from India for the Sikh Games.(ABC Riverina: Shannon Corvo)

An affinity for agriculture

Mr Lally said Griffith had developed a very large Sikh community because the weather and agriculture were similar to those in northern India.

“The farmland is like Griffith, Leeton and environs,” he said.

“The Sikh communities love agriculture; therefore we settle in the farming communities.

“The hot is hot here [and] the cold is cold here, just like at home.”

He said although it could be called the Sikh Games, the event is open for the entire community to enjoy.

“I encourage all other communities to come along for the long weekend.”

Three women are sitting on a picnic blanket with four children
The Sikh Games are a celebration of food, sport and culture.(ABC Riverina: Shannon Corvo)

Traditional sports on display

The Sikh Games feature a range of different sports such as soccer and volleyball and unique sports such as musical chairs.

The most popular attraction, however, is the Punjabi sport of Kabaddi, a physically demanding competition best described as a cross between wrestling and rugby.

It involves an attacker walking into the opponent’s half of the field and attempting to touch one or more members of the other team, then returning to their own half before being wrestled.

A man wearing a jacket with a logo that reads 'Cultural and Sports Association of Victoria Volleyball' watches volleyball.
Athletes travel from all over Australia and overseas to take part in the Sikh Games.(ABC Riverina: Shannon Corvo)

Kabaddi player Bhola Singh is originally from North India and now lives in Adelaide.

He said most Kabaddi players in Adelaide are truck drivers and it is difficult to balance training with family, work and social life.

“We train once a week or twice whenever time permits, but mostly like running, pulling, push-ups.”

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