Gut Barging: Britain's bargers extend a friendly paunch to Japan

The gut-barging year reached a thrilling climax at its world championships in Trowbridge, Wiltshire, last weekend when Mad Maurice, "the Belgian from Melksham" retained the title he has held for the past four years.

The ancient sport of gut barging, in which two contestants try to barge each other off a 12ft by 8ft mat using only their stomachs, is described by its aficionados as a cross between Sumo wrestling and the Peruvian territorial game of Dungwatt. It has its own complex rules, scoring system and code of etiquette, the worst violation of which is to be accused of gutlessness.

"Most blokes just don't have the stomach for a fight," explained Mad Maurice, after he had expelled his last challenger from the mat with a "full Johnny Turk". The move, a speciality of Maurice, is a single, explosive barge which removes the opponent from the mat.

One of his "gongoozlers" - the ra-ra-skirted, pom-pommed supporters who act as bargers' cheerleaders - said in admiration: "He's the only man I know who can make his belly-button sneer."

Despite the importance of the occasion, however, Maurice's victory was overshadowed by the announcement of new overtures to heal the rift between gut barging and Sumo wrestling. Stung by recent allegations of match-fixing, drugs and tax evasion in the Sumo world, the President of the World Gut Barging Association, Colonel Walter Polhill, is offering "the hand of friendship to our larger Japanese cousins".

More specifically, he has offered "to embrace them [the great Sumo wrestlers] warmly into the bosom of the gut barging family". The offer continues: "We cannot offer fish and boiled rice, but we can keep them in fighting condition on our diet of British beef, bulls' semen and deep-fried Mars bars. And if, by happenstance, they choose to change their allegiances from Sumo to gut barging, we shall be glad to receive them."

Asked for an opinion on the likelihood of his facing a challenge on his home ground from the yokozunas of Sumo, Mad Maurice clasped his 56in paunch pensively, then replied: "Those Sumo geezers have done themselves like kippers. Can't see much future for them now, can you?"

Maurice lives on a canal barge with two Belgian parrots named Axe and Cleaver.

Further information on gut barging is available from: WGBA, Fons Albert, 33 Silver Street, Bradford on Avon, Wiltshire BA15 1JX.

William Hartston has recently been appointed Reality Consultant to the World Gut Barging Association.

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