The crowd eagerly watched the 21-year-old put his foot above his head through a standing lunge to send a woven plastic ball flying over the net. His opponents pass the ball several times with their feet before one of them returns it.
At a glance, Sepak takraw shares some of the elements of volleyball, with a ball served, landed and pointed through a net. But there is a major caveat: players are not allowed to use their hands.
What may seem like an odd sport to people unfamiliar with is actually a historic regional tradition that helps send young sportsmen, like those who recently played at a stadium in Bangkok’s western metro, to a brighter future.
“There are big addiction issues in my hometown, but I never got involved in any of that. All I do is play sports, I don’t have time to play around with drugs, ”said Anan Chaichana, 21 from Khon Kaen. Coconut Bangkok with a small laugh.
He is part of the Kalasin Takraw team which traveled to the Nakhon Pathom Gymnasium stadium to participate in the Takraw Thailand league.
Anan said he was very grateful for the free undergraduate education his years of training in takraw reward him with. Years of training often twice a day.
“I did a full tour to study management at the College of Asian Scholars in Khon Kaen,” he said.
A number of stakeholders interviewed agreed that for them, takraw was not only an exercise and an art form specific to the region, but also a way for rural youth from disadvantaged neighborhoods to find opportunities. to earn income and free education.
Today, the six-century-old sport or a variation is also played in Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore, Myanmar, Laos, and the Philippines. It is also popularly played in physical education classes in Thai schools and remains a popular pastime for people of all ages. It can be seen playing in schoolyards, parks and virtually anywhere with open space.
Since 1999, successive Thai governments have declared drug addiction a national priority, although drug use, foreclosures and prosecutions continue to increase.
“The drug problem has seeped into every nook and cranny of much of rural Thailand, especially now that the economy is bad and people don’t have jobs. So a lot of them turn to drugs, ”said Kalasin team manager Tanapol Tungkeeratichai.
It’s a problem he says he sees with his own eyes. Tanapol runs an academy in the northeastern province that trains underprivileged children from the age of 6 because he believes takraw can point them on the right path.
Tanapol says he has been playing the sport forever and loves it so much that he named his firstborn “Takraw”.
Yeah, needless to say Takraw is his whole life.
Take a look into the world of Takraw and find out why Anan and other young players decided to play professionally.
Sepak takraw – sometimes described by outsiders as “Shaolin Soccer” – may seem bizarre to the uninitiated. The gameplay consists of three players on each side competing against each other to score points through a net.
While players are not allowed to touch the ball with their hands, they can use just about everything else: feet, legs, head, knees, and chest. Many have described it as a kind of cross between soccer and volleyball and played with a woven synthetic fiber ball.
It is believed that Thais have been playing takraw since around the 16th century, during the time of Ayutthaya. The modern form began to take shape in the 1700s. Takraw: a traditional Southeast Asian sport by author Shawn Kelley, the Siam Sports Association drafted the first official rules for Takraw competitions in 1929, and in 1990 it became a sport at the Asian Games – with Thailand dominating ever since with the most gold medals.
Wall painting at Wat Samuha Pradittharam in Saraburi showing people playing Takraw in the early Rattanakosin period. Photo: Voice TV
Sport of the future?
Over the years, the popularity of takraw has increased all over the world. There are now 31 nations in the International Sepaktakraw Federation – the sport’s governing body established in 1988 – competing against each other.
The objective of the federation, as well as those of takraw which Coconut Bangkok spoke, is to bring the game into the Summer Olympics. In order to meet the requirements of the International Olympic Committee, the sport must be popularly played in at least 75 countries to qualify.
Tanapol hopes this will happen. His team counterpart Nakhon Pathom is not so optimistic.
“I think Takraw is still a long way from the Olympics because it’s too regional. For it to be included, people have to play it a lot more in other regions, ”Supato Banya said.
Played at just 13 points (as opposed to the standard 15), games run faster in the Underground Takraw and all players are true amateurs – no pros present here. Matches can be played for high stakes cash prizes as much as THB21k (US $ 2,988) or a simpler THB 4,500 (US $ 148). Frankly, most of the players are there for the money, explains organizer “Foo Original”, a pioneer of underground Takraw in Thailand.
Amateurs or not, underground Takraw is a blast to watch – you just have to appreciate the level of acrobatics involved as the underground players soar through the air and serve the ball a few quick circular kicks.
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