This game isn’t just for kicking, it’s a miracle-Sports News, Firstpost

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With the arrival of big game competitions, will sepak takraw finally resume in India where scarcity of funds is the norm?

Kh Niken Singh’s knees hurt, his back is a mess, and he knows the road to recovery will be slow and costly, but he carries his battle wounds with pride. The 34-year-old and his team have a place in the history of the sport – they won India’s first Asian Games medal, a bronze, in sepak takraw in Jakarta in 2018.

Singh would rather be in Goa, where big sepak takraw events are planned for later this year, than heal his broken body, but the sport has never been for the faint of heart.

“I am going to rest my body for a year as I am undergoing medical treatment at Imphal,” Singh said on the phone from his home in Imphal.

Indian athletes Sepak Takraw won the bronze medal in the men’s team competition at the 2018 Asian Games in Palembang. AFP

Who pays the bill? “While I was in the Indian camp, medical bills were paid. But after the camp, it’s my own money, ”the Manipur Sports and Youth Welfare Ministry employee said in a mixture of English and Hindi.

This partly explains why sepak takraw has not really taken off in India – lack of funds, facilities and no publicity.

Quite popular in Thailand, Malaysia, Myanmar, and other countries in the region, sepak takraw is new to India, where most haven’t even heard the name of the game.

Often referred to as kick volleyball, sepak takraw is a Southeast Asian sport. Sepak means “to kick” in Malay, while Takraw means Thai for a rattan or rattan ball, around which the three-way sport revolves.

It’s such a stylish game that in Myanmar it’s played like Chinlone, where there are no opposing teams and all the effort is to keep the ball in the air without using the hands – alike almost like a dance form. Chinlone is Myanmar’s favorite sport. Reports say he is almost 1,500 years old and was once played by the Burmese kings. Now it is played everywhere and is also a regular feature of Buddhist festivals.

Sepak takraw is played on a badminton-type court, with a net separating the two teams. It is played almost like volleyball, but players are not allowed to use their hands and can only use their feet, knees, chest and head to touch the ball, which must be pushed with the other side of the net. Watching the game in the Leikais of Manipur (district in Meitilon, the official language of the state), under the night sky lit by LEDs is quite an experience.

The Manipuri, who love their sports, practice sepak takraw in every locality of the Imphal valley. So it’s no surprise that eight of the 12 men and six of the 12 women of the 24-member Indian sepak takraw team who played in Jakarta are Manipuris.

“The Manipuri are particularly good at sepak takraw because almost everyone plays football and is naturally flexible. Sepak takraw is a game where you use your legs a lot, ”says Vincent Nameirakpam, who played the game as a child in Singjamei, Manipur. The proximity to Myanmar has helped popularize gaming in Manipur, where the equipment for gaming comes easily, as do the cheap yet powerful LED bulbs made in China for nighttime play.

“It didn’t become popular in the past because, apart from Manipur, no other state played it seriously. People played there just to pass the time, ”said Muhindro Singh Thokchom, a coach with the Sports Authority of India. Although Assam and Nagaland picked it up, it did not spread to other parts of the country. “But in recent years, many southern Indian states like Tamil Nadu, Kerala and Andhra Pradesh have taken it over. So I think the future is good, ”says Thokchom.

He is optimistic that once Haryana, Punjab and Uttar Pradesh get into the sport, it will become popular. “These are states where great players can come from and size is an advantage in sepak takraw,” he said. Introduced at the Beijing Asian Games in 1990, sepak takraw is expected to feature in the Olympics soon.

Sepak Takraw Federation of India General Secretary Yogendra Singh Dahiya believes the game is here to stay. “It’s getting popular day by day. The reason I say the game has a bright future is that it has been introduced at certain levels in schools and universities. And with good government support, it can become a sport where India can do very well, ”he said.

“The sport will feature in the National Games in Goa, after which the Sepak Takraw World Cup tournament will take place. So Goa may well turn out to be the real game changer when it comes to sepak takraw in India.

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