China's believers compete in first religious games

BEIJING Wed Jun 23, 2010 6:29pm IST

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BEIJING (Reuters) - China's first "Religious Games" took place in the southwestern province of Yunnan this week, allowing Buddhist monks and Taoist nuns to compete with Muslims, Catholics and Protestants in a series of sporting events, local media reported.

The Games, held from June 20-22, saw nearly 1,000 participants from the five faiths battle it out at athletics, table tennis, badminton, basketball, chess, rope skipping and even tug of war, according to state news agency Xinhua.

The 21 participating teams were not always divided on religious lines, with Buddhists, Taoists and Muslims often on the same side, the Yunnan Information News said.

"We have never trained for this. We are not here to win, but to participate," the paper quoted a Buddhist nun as saying after she had lost a badminton match 2-0 to a Muslim woman.

China, officially atheist, has been accused by human rights groups of heavy-handed treatment toward religious minorities, like the Muslim Uighurs and Buddhist Tibetans in the northwest.

Pictures from the games showed a team of Buddhist monks at a basketball game wearing running shoes, with their traditional orange robes cut short, as well as a number of Tibetan lamas cheering on a colleague during a long-distance run.

"The participants are religious practitioners, students from religious institutions and normal religious people," said organizer Xiong Shengxiang, chief of religious administration of the provincial government.

"The Games aim to increase exchanges among the religions."

Yunnan is one of the most ethnically and religiously diverse provinces in China. Around 10 percent of Yunnan's population of 45 million belong to one of the five major faiths.

(Reporting by Liu Zhen and David Stanway; Editing by Ron Popeski)

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