Mongol Naadam Opening Ceremony 2020

The annual Naadam sporting festival kicked off on Saturday without a live audience for the first time in its 800-year history as COVID-19 fears still grip Mongolia.

At a venue outside Ulaanbaatar, athletes showed off the "three manly skills" of horsemanship, archery and wrestling, dressed in traditional "zodog shuudag" wrestling suits and "deel" tunics.

But the two-day festival, which usually attracts tens of thousands of onlookers and street vendors, permits only a handful of guests including top politicians this year, with ordinary citizens barred by police from entering the venue under crowd control measures intended to prevent the spread of the coronavirus. Mongolians were instead encouraged to watch the games on live broadcasts.

Mongolia, which borders Russia and China, has so far reported only 227 virus cases (all imported) and no deaths but continues to enforce a strict border lockdown that has prompted protests by some Mongolians stranded overseas. The country has, however, brought back thousands of its citizens, being second only to Germany in per capita repatriation.

While no social distancing was enforced and no face masks were worn at this year’s games, child jockeys racing on Mongolian horses had their temperatures taken as a precaution.

Mongolia has lifted some coronavirus-related restrictions in recent days, allowing cinemas and nightclubs to reopen with limited hours, although public gatherings, demonstrations and most sporting events are still banned.