The game may have been played simply as sport, but on certain occasions it was certainly played as a form of religious ceremony that ended in human sacrifice. Archaeologists do not agree on who was sacrificed... the losing team?... the winning team? (if sacrifice was viewed as an honor)... or perhaps just the losing captain?... or the winning captain?
The ball court at Uxmal
The stone ring at the ball court of Uxmal
The city of Mérida has a number of free events that take place on various plazas during the course of the week. The latest addition to the calendar of events is a recreation of "pok-a-tok", played each Friday evening on the street in front of the cathedral.
I doubt very much that they are playing with the heavy, solid rubber ball that the Mayas originally used, and the players do not wear the protective padding that used to be worn. It is, however, a rather rough and tumble game, with the players diving to the pavement in order to bounce the ball off their hips. A ring hangs over the street, and a number of times the players managed to put the ball through the ring.
The performance ends with a variation of the game with a flaming wooden ball. The players use their bare hands to throw the fiery ball. Ouch!
I am very suspicious of the historical accuracy of this portion of the game. I have never read anything about the Mayas playing with a ball in flames. But it does make for a crowd pleasing finale to the event.