Taking shape and form from the heart of South-East Asia, Sepak takraw has always been a sport that has a controversial origin story. With the tales spanning back to a good couple of centuries, there is much dispute regarding the country which gave birth to it.
Originally, it is thought that the commercial influence of the Chinese crept into the South-East Asian islands and brought with it the sport of sepak takraw, which in layman terms, is known as 'Kick Ball'. There were several variations of the game that evolved from an ancient Chinese military exercise, where soldiers would try to keep a feathered shuttlecock airborne by kicking it back and forth between two or more people. Slowly with time, the shuttlecock was replaced by balls made of woven strips of rattan.
Although this sport has striking similarities with volleyball and football, the key difference lies in the rules governing the sport. Unlike volleyball, in Sepak Takraw, players are not allowed to use their hands to play the ball and are required to use their feet, head, knees and chest to touch the ball. Popular across Southeast Asia, it is particularly popular in Malaysia, where it is locally known as 'Sepak Raga' and in Thailand, where it is called 'Takraw'.
Ever since Sepak Takraw made its entry in 1829, the Siam Sports Association drafted the first rules for the game. Soon enough, the association introduced the volleyball-style net and held the first public contest.
The history runs deeper in the Thai country, which has always dominated the sport with the murals at Wat Phra Kaew (the Temple of the Emerald Buddha) depicting the Hindu god Hanuman playing sepak takraw in a ring with a troop of fellow monkeys.
The competitive streak in the sport escalated with the formation of the International Sepak Takraw Federation (ISTAF) and the formalization of rules. It was in 1990 that sepak takraw entered the Asian Games and Thailand has since then bagged 22 medals.
India, too has been participating in this event for the last 3 editions of the Asian Games. With Myanmar and Malaysia along with Thailand dominating the sport, India is yet to make their presence felt in the game and win medals for the country.
Sepak takraw, after being adopted as an international sport, is now played on a modified badminton doubles court, with the net standing five feet above the ground. Each of the two teams in Sepak Takraw consists of three players, each playing a specific position. These are the ‘Teukgong’, which is the player who stands furthest back on the court and an Inside Left Inside and a Right Inside, who play closer to the net on each side of the court.
However, the chances of India making a mark this year at the Jakarta Asian Games seem stronger than ever with the men's team recently emerging as silver medal winners in the Asian Sepak Takraw Championship 2017 and they will thus be heading to the twin islands of Jakarta-Palembang with full confidence.
India has sent a squad of 24 – 12 men and 12 women. In the men’s regu category, India has been paired with South Korea, China and Nepal in Group B.
In the team regu event, the Indian side will play Indonesia and Iran in Group B. The women’s team has been drawn with Thailand, Laos and South Korea in Group A of the team regu event and with Thailand, Japan, Vietnam and Malaysia in Group B of the quadrant event.
The game familiar in Malaysia, Singapore and Brunei as 'sepak raga', has a simple scoring technique with a side receiving a point every time their opponents fault. A game of Sepak Takraw is won by the first side to win two sets. Each set is is won by the team that is first to reach 21 points. If a set is tied 21-21, then a tie breaker shall be played in which the first team to open up a two-point lead or one who reaches 25 points is declared the winner. The game demands agility and takes a good amount of physical fitness and flexibility and coordination to help win a match.
The game having its history embedded in Hindu religion and Malay folklore, is one that has stood the test of time. Undergoing several variations over the course of centuries, sepak takraw has now been popularised among the South-eastern nations and are also travelling to African countries, Europe, Middle East and obviously getting absorbed into India too.
The Asiad 2018 will stand a witness yet again to the celebration of an ancient sport and the best part lies in the fact that India too has a good chance of clinching a medal for the first time in this sport at the Games.