Griffith Sikh Games attract thousands to regional NSW for celebration of sport, food and culture

About 15,000 people are converging on a regional Australian town for one of the country’s most popular Sikh sporting events, but with food a central ingredient to the cultural event, a mammoth effort is underway to feed everybody … for free.

The Griffith Sikh Games draws people from all over Australia and overseas to the southern New South Wales town to watch athletes compete on the Queen’s Birthday long weekend.

But while sport is the main drawcard, people also attend to celebrate culture and food, with event organisers this year trucking in two tons of onions, three tons of floor and 700 litres of milk for the two-day event.

Griffith City councillor and event organiser Manjit Lally said that was made possible due to the support and donations from Sikh communities across the country.

“Three or four years ago, we can’t keep up with the demand, so now we get help from the cities as well,” he said.

Manjit Lally says the Sikh Games are for the entire community to enjoy.(ABC Riverina: Romy Stephens)

We are ‘one community’

Gurdarshan Singh is from the Sikh community in Melbourne and first went to the games — also known as the Griffith Shaheedi Tournament — 10 years ago to help out.

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

A man wearing a blue head scarf stirring a large pot of food with a stick
A large amount of food is prepared for the Sikh Games then handed out for free.(ABC Riverina: Romy Stephens)

It is the 24th time the games have been held, after they were canceled the past two years due to COVID-19.

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

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

“We got more than 700 liters [of milk] for today [and] we cook around 700 bread packets.”

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

A man tackles 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 originally came from Punjab, northern India.

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

She migrated to Australia to offer her children a better future and believed the games gave them a chance to learn about their culture.

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

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

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

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

“I love it,” Ms Kaur said.

“Thank you very much for bringing us here.”

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

An affinity for farming

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

“The farming country is like Griffith, Leeton and surrounding areas,” he said.

“The Sikh communities love farming; that’s why we settle in the farming communities.

“The hot is hot here [and] the cold is cold here, like exactly back at home as well.”

He said while it may be called the Sikh Games, the event was open for the entire community to enjoy.

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

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

Traditional sport on display

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

The most popular attraction, however, is the Punjabi kabaddi, a physically demanding contest best described as a mix of wrestling and rugby.

It sees a raider go into the opposition’s half of the field and try to touch one or more members of the other team, then return 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 compete in the Sikh Games.(ABC Riverina: Shannon Corvo)

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

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

“We do weight training once a week, or twice whenever time allows, but mostly like running, pulling, push-ups.”

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