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As Belfast prepares to host Euro tug of war event, MP Tom tells of huge pull sport had on him

By Joanne Sweeney

Published 11/08/2015

The NI team competes at the 2015 UK Tug Of War Championships
The NI team competes at the 2015 UK Tug Of War Championships
Tom Elliott (yellow jumper) in his tug of war days

Tug of war is a real man's - and woman's - international sport believed to have been first practised by the ancient Egyptians and Greeks.

And next month Northern Ireland will host the outdoor European Tug Of War Championship for the first time in what organisers describe as a major coup.

Belfast will also host the first Youth World Championships.

More than 1,000 competitors from as far away as South Africa and Taiwan are expected to compete at that three-day event in Belfast, which begins on September 3.

While Northern Ireland has struggled to maintain a ladies' team in recent years, indoor and outdoor tug of war still thrive here.

The Bancran team from Draperstown, Co Londonderry, is regarded as one of four top outdoor teams at its weight in the world and is expected to claim a gold or silver at the European event.

Along with Leo's Boys from Benburb, Derryogue from Kilkeel, and Garvagh, it will be representing the region in a sport that hundreds here are involved in.

For the uninitiated, a tug of war competition involves two sides of eight men or women - or in a mixed team of four men and four women - trying to pull a rope from either side over an agreed winning distance.

Sitting down under the rope, failing to keep both hands on the rope, and tying the rope around a competitor are all strictly frowned upon and cautions will be given, said Sam Rountree, vice chair of the Northern Ireland Tug Of War Association.

It may surprise some, but one of Northern Ireland's former stars of tug of war is Fermanagh/South Tyrone MP Tom Elliott.

It's been over 15 years since the ex-UUP leader competitively 'pulled' (which is how those involved in the sport refer to it).

But he was good enough in his day to represent Northern Ireland.

A former member of the Country Club tug of war team from his native Fermanagh, Mr Elliott said his tug of war days were well behind him but that he hoped to attend the Euro Championship next month.

"I haven't pulled for years now but I was involved in it since the age of 25 or 26 up to about 36," he said.

"I can remember having to train very hard coming up to a championship, so it was a serious enough commitment.

"We had to run for strength in our legs and do the normal exercises like sit-ups and squats, but then we had to do pulling weight training." While he did some competing outdoors, he mainly competed in the indoor sport.

As a member of the Country Club, which won the Northern Ireland Championship, Mr Elliott pulled for the province in the UK Championship and European Championship in the late 1990s.

He also competed at the Earls Court Royal Tournament in London on two occasions.

The European Championship will be held at the YMCA grounds near Stranmillis in Belfast from September 3-9 and admission is free.

Belfast Telegraph

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