Tug of War - History, Rules & Rope Selection Guide

A common scene at family get-togethers, field day events, birthday parties, picnics, beach outings, summer camps and backyards around the world. No, we’re not talking about grilling – we’re talking about battles of strength and will that date back centuries. Tug of war!

Tug of War History

The act of ‘Tug of War’ reaches far back in ancient times among many different nations, so its exact origins are unknown. There are reports of the game in ancient Greece, India, Egypt, and China. In China, ancient texts claim that military commanders used tug of war rope to train warriors 7,000 to 10,000 years ago. Back then, it was called hook pulling. In ancient Egyptian history it is said that the sun and moon even played tug of war over light and darkness.

While there is no specific time and place to pinpoint the origin of Tug of War, the contest of pulling on rope originates from many different ancient ceremonies and cults, which are found all over the world. Some additional countries with tug of war origins include Burma, Borneo, Japan, Korea, Hawaii and South America. Ancient Tug of War was performed in various styles as well. In Afghanistan, teams used a wooden stake instead of a rope to pull. In Korea, children clasped their arms around each other’s waists to form a living Tug of War chain. Team captains must have had a very strong grip linking the teams together with their hands. Tug of War was not only a team sport; in several countries a man-to-man version of Tug of War existed. The Canadian Eskimos still have a Tug of War contest known as “arsaaraq”. It’s a Tug of War contest with the pullers sitting on the ground, using a short rope. The one who pulls his opponent over from his seated position is the winner.

Later, Tug of War became a pure contest of physical strength. In Greece, the cradle of the ancient Olympic Games, Tug of War sport around 500 BC was practiced by athletes either as a competitive sport or as an exercise in the physical training for other sports. In Western Europe evidence of Tug of War is found in the year 1000 AC, in the stories of the heroic champions of Scandinavia and Germany, who participated in the so called “kräftige spiele” (power games). The Tug of War sport featured in competitions at the courts of the Chinese Emperors, as well as in Mongolia and Turkey. In the 15th century Tug of War was a popular contest at the tournaments in the French chateaux and in competitions in Great Britain.

The game has always been two opposing sides competing against each other in a test of brute strength. Some cultures used poles between each team, others rope, and some were hand to hand. The modern game has two teams at opposite ends of a rope with the goal to pull the middle a certain distance away from the other team of victory. In the 1900’s it became a popular sport and was a competition in the Olympics from 1900 to 1920. Today, international tug of war competition still exists and is played at the World Games as well as in World Championships organized by the Tug of War International Federation (TWIF).

Ravenox Cotton Rope for Tug of War Games

Tug of War in the Olympics

In the 1900’s it became a popular sport and was a competition in the Olympics from 1900 to 1920.

 Year Venue Gold Silver  Bronze
1900 Paris Sweden USA France
1904 St. Louis USA USA USA
1908 London Great Britain Great Britain Great Britain
1912 Stockholm Sweden Great Britain
1920 Atwerp Great Britain Netherlands Belgium


In 1920 the IOC took a decision to reduce the number of participants of the Olympic Games and for that reason deleted a number of team sports from the program, including Tug of War. In 1999 TWIF received provisional IOC recognition, which was confirmed in 2002 for tug of war to again be formally recognized in accordance with rule 29 of the Olympic Charter.

Tug of War 1904 Olympics

Tug of war competition at the 1904 Games - Wikipedia

2022 Summer Games!

Tug of war will be back in the Olympics for the first time in over 100 years at the 2022 World Games and will take place in July 2022, at the University of Alabama Birmingham in the United States. Originally scheduled to take place in July 2021, the Games have been rescheduled for July 2022 as a result of the 2020 Summer Olympics postponement due to the COVID-19 pandemic. This will be the first time when mixed event in tug of war will take place as part of the World Games.

Tug of War – The Game Today

Since then, many national and international groups put on competitions and many cultures celebrate the game in annual festivities. It is also a popular game among children, as a team building exercise, and an outdoor party game. The most common diameter used for tug of war is 1-inch and is great for children and adults. You can use length of 25 ft, 50 ft, 75 ft, or 100 ft depending on the size of your team and sew a flag in the middle if desired. The number of people who can play is only limited by the length of your rope.

Tug of War Rules

The center of the rope should align with the center marked on the ground. A white mark is made exactly 13 feet from the red mark on either side of the rope. As soon as the referee blows the whistle, each team can start pulling the rope into their territory. The objective of the game is for each team to pull the rope along with the members of opposition team to their side. The game is won when either side with the white mark crosses the center point. As soon as the white mark on the rope over to center line, the team to pull the rope to their area wins the game. Beware of fouls! Lowering your elbow below knee level while pulling the rope is considered to be a foul and is called ‘locking’. Additionally, touching the ground for too long a period of time is also considered as a foul. Both can reset the game.

Add an additional element of fun to your tug of war game by playing on either side of a small body of water or a mud pit! The losing side gets pulled into the water.

An informal game of tug of war can have as many or as few rules as you want. Some competitions rope pulling competitions don’t allow people to wrap the rope around their arm, for example. In official competitions, though, you have to abide by the TWIF's international rule book, which you can read when you click here.

Ready to Play Tug of War?

Are you ready to test your strength? First things first, you need a good quality Tug of War Rope . Then, line up a few of your friends or family members to play. Split up your teams into comparable sizes. Now mark a center line on the ground as the starting point for the center of the rope. You can use tape, paint, a stick, chalk, or something similar. Measure the same distance from the center of the rope on each side and mark it with a flag or a strip of cloth. Depending upon how far you want the winning team to have to pull the other team, you can make this distance as short or as long as you want it to be. Assign someone to be the judge and start pulling!

The tug of war competition requires a judge. There are 3 different commands that the judge gives to the players. The judge first announces, “Pick up the rope”, he then says, “Take the string”, and finally he tells the players to “Pull”. Once the pull command is said out the teams start pulling the rope. If a member of the team falls down that member is given a caution. Each team is allowed two cautions before getting disqualified.

Rope Selection to Prevent Tug of War Rope Burns

One potential injury that can occur in the game is a rope burn. Selecting the right rope can prevent this, but you also need it to be strong. Ravenox Twisted Cotton Tug of War Ropes are the perfect rope for tug of war. Cotton rope allows for a great grip while it is also soft on the hands, eliminating rope burn that is commonly caused by other types of rope like nylon, polyester, or other synthetic ropes. Independently lab tested, Ravenox’s 1-inch diameter twisted cotton ropes are certified and have a tensile strength of 2,375 lbs. Best of all, these tug of war ropes are made from upcycled textile yarns. There are no harmful dyes, chemicals, or other materials in Ravenox cotton ropes. Using these ropes helps protect the planet, our only home.

Whether for your child’s next birthday party or business team building event, grab some of our cotton rope and Tug Away!

Cordage & Rope Cotton Rope Manila Rope Outdoor Activities Outdoors tug of war Twisted Cotton Rope

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  • Very good explanation and guidance

    Rana Muhammad Arshad Kanwal on
  • There are various weight classifications in Tug of War, and the mass of the eight people combined (per side)
    must not weigh more than that determined by the category that they are placed in. For a group of two teams with 20 people on each side we’d recommend at least 100 FT of tug of war rope.

    Anonymous on
  • If I have two teams of 20 people, how long of a rope should I get?

    Jacob Lyons on
  • Thanks for the rad article. Quality of the material is definitely the most important factor when I buy anything for my kids.

    Adrian Carter on

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