While Argentina is famous for its love of soccer, it is not actually the national sport. The official national sport of Argentina is a game called Pato, which in Spanish means duck. Earliest records show that Pato was played as early as 1610, and it wasn’t until 1952 that it was named the official sport of Argentina by president Juan Peron.
Pato is the name of the sport because originally, a duck hide was sewn into a leather sack and that was used as the ball. Ranchers used to play in large open fields with very few rules. The ranchers would ride their horses and toss the duck between them. The goal was to throw the duck through a net at the end of the field for points. There were very few rules, and this made the game very dangerous. It was so dangerous that the government banned the sport for many years. It was not until the 1930s, when Mr. Alberto de Castillo Posse developed the official rules for the game, that it became popular and legal again.
People play modern Pato very differently than the original game. Pato players ride on horses and play with a leather ball that has six wooden or rope handles. The ball is about the size of a volleyball, and the handles make it easier to grab the ball while the players are riding horses. The teams are made up of four players each. Each team usually has eight horses that are switched out during the game so that they do not get tired. The game starts with two players, each holding a handle on the ball. They both tug on it until someone has control of it. The person holding the ball rides towards the goals on the end of the field, but he has to hold the ball out so that another player has the chance to grab it. To make it more difficult, the player can use only the right hand. There are two goals, one on each side of the field. They are like basketball goals, but they are vertical and on posts. It is also required for players to wear helmets. Each game also needs two referees. One keeps track of time, and the other keeps track of scores; both also watch for fouls.
Most people who play Pato are amateurs. There are Pato clubs all over the country. All that people need to play is a helmet, horses and a ball, but it takes a lot of bravery and practice to be a great player. Oftentimes, clubs will pitch in to have their own stables and field on which to play. Farmers often play with neighboring ranches as well. Every year the best teams in the country get together and compete for the national championship called Abierto Argentino de Pato. Unlike football and soccer though, Pato competitions are often less competitive. After a game, players will usually embrace and celebrate together.