If you visit Dewa Academy in Karachi, you will see a bunch of boys kicking a ball, made of synthetic fiber having 12 holes and 20 intersections, over the net with extremely impressive skills. The game is called Sepak Takraw which requires top-notch fitness of players and abilities of soccer and martial arts. “The game is a combination of volleyball, soccer, and martial arts,” told a senior player of Pakistan’s national Sepak Takraw team, Syed Sadiq Abbas.
The word Sepak Takraw is basically a combination of two words, ‘Sepak’ is a Malay word which means hit or smash, whereas, ‘Takraw’ is a Thai word used for the ball with which the game is being played, together it means to smash the ball. The sports, which is played in around 42 countries, is a popular game in Thailand and Malaysia. In fact, the game reached Pakistan when a volleyball delegation went to Thailand and saw this game there, they were impressed with it and introduced it in Pakistan in 2007.
The rules of this game are similar to volleyball, but, players cannot use their hands once the ball comes into play. The standard game features two teams (known as Regu) of three players each. The three players in the court are called striker, server, and feeder. Players have to send the ball over the net using their head, legs or torso with the maximum of three contacts. “A regu has to kick the ball over the net to the opponents’ court with the maximum of three contacts, these three contacts can be made by one player, two players or all three of them,” explained Sadiq.
The game starts with a toss, where the winning captain of a regu chooses either to serve or ask the other team to serve first. Whereas, the other captain gets to choose the side of the court. A game has two sets initially of 20 points, however, if the game is tied at 1-1, then there is a tie-breaker set of 14 points. A team can only be declared the winner of a set if they have a lead of at least two points, if the lead is smaller than that in a 20-point set, then it can be extended to 25 points. If there is a similar case in the 14-point set, the set gets to expand to 17 points.
The feeder tosses the ball to the server, who stands in a circle in a court and has to serve from there without getting airborne, the ball has to get into the other court without touching the net or any of his teammates, otherwise or it will be called a foul. Other rules of the game are similar to rest of court games. Like, in order to earn a point, hit the ball on the ground in opponent’s court or force the opponent to play a wrong shot that sends the ball outside the court.
Though Sepak Takraw is not much of a popular game in Pakistan, the national team has done quite well at the international stage. “We have won the bronze medal from 2011 to 2015 in the King’s Cup (Thailand) without any sort of government’s support, which to me is a great achievement,” told Secretary General National Sepak Takraw Academy Pakistan, Syed Asrar-ul-Hasan. “We want to promote this game in the country, but it is very difficult to do without authorities backing,” he added.
Sepak Takraw Federation of the country is not recognized by the Pakistan Sports Board (PSB) so far despite promises made after impressive performances at the international stage. However, this has not stopped the progress of the game in the country. “We are working to promote the game all over Pakistan, we have achieved fairly in Sindh as the game is being played in Karachi, Hyderabad, Sukkur, Larkana and in Nawabshah,” told Sadiq. “We are planning to open academies in Punjab and KPK now, we have already established an academy in Sargodha. Our players from Hunza and Gilgit Baltistan are working hard in their respective regions as well,” he added.
Moreover, to expand the game, the Sepak Takraw Federation is looking to introduce this sport in the locality of Lyari in Karachi. Lyari is the hub of soccer, if the sport excels in the locality, it will benefit the game in the country big time.
The authorities of this sport in the country encounter numerous challenges, including unavailability of a proper place to practice, lack of funds and absence Sepak Takraw balls in Pakistan. “We are extremely thankful to Dewa Academy for cooperating with us and providing us with space where we can practice. We are given a place in National Coaching Center (NCC), but it is cemented, so there is always a chance of injury, we cannot practice our risky moves there such as bicycle kicks, which is essential for the game,” told the senior player. Moreover, Asrar told, “As the game is not popular in Pakistan, there are no manufacturers of the Sepak Takraw ball, so we have to import them from other countries.”
The positive for Pakistan Sepak Takraw Federation is that the game is included in the Asian and South Asian Games, thus, winning a medal there will surely highlight their efforts and can also turn government’s attention towards them. “We are aiming to win at least a silver medal in the upcoming global events, whereas a gold in Asian and South Asian campaigns,” told Sadiq. They are hoping that inclusion of the sport in Asian and South Asian games will pave way for the sport to become a regular feature of Olympic Games.