Asia sports flying high

Al Jazeera looks at Kabbadi and Sepatakraw - entertaining the crowds at Doha 2006.

    China has claimed many of the headlines so far in the 15th Asian Games as it uses the competition as a testing ground for its Olympic assault in Beijing in 2008.

    However, many lesser known non-Olympic sports and sporting stars have been parading their wares in Doha. Al Jazeera takes a look at two Asian sports that have been wowing their crowds and could soon harbour Olympic aspirations.


    India atop the podium - again
    India comfortably saw off Pakistan 35-23 on Wednesday night to claim their fifth straight Asia Games Kabbadi gold, meaning they have won every gold since the sport was introduced to the games in 1990.

    Combining the agility of schoolyard games such as tag with the hitting and tackling of rugby, the Kabbadi tournament has played out to capacity crowds with organisers forced to close the doors an hour before the final on Wednesday.

    Played with teams of seven, the two sides switch between attacking and defending. A lone attacker known as a "raider" aims to touch one of the opposing defenders and return to his own court. Any defender touched is declared out if his team cannot prevent the raider from retreating to his own half.

    Extra points are accrued if one team can rule the entire opposing team out.

    If all that was not hard enough, the raider must undergo his task by holding his breath and repeating the mantra "kabbadi, kabbadi, kabbadi."

    The game was founded in India where legend tells of a young soldier Abhimanyhu who went into battle against 7 warriors. Having fought well, Abhimanyhu was surrounded by their chariots. Unable to escape he was captured and killed.

    Less bloody these days, the game has retained its physical edge and spread throughout the villages India and South Asia to outposts such as Canada and Argentina.

    Bangladesh claimed the bronze in Doha to give the podium a familiar look - all Asian Games medals have been claimed by this year's top three - but the emergence of Iran and Japan as playing powers will give hope to those pushing the game beyond its traditional frontiers.

    Iran claimed an unexpected and impressive victory over Bangladesh in the five team round robin group stage and put up a solid display in losing the bronze medal match while Japan claimed a point against the Iranians and showed enough potential to suggest they could become a future force.

    If the game did get Olympic recognition, however, the Indians are still the team to beat.

    "We expected to win tonight," said the team's skipper Dinesh Kumar. "We kept our best for the  match. We will definitely win again next time like this."


    The word Sepatakraw will mean little to those outside south-east Asia, but it is one of the region's most popular sport and once you have watched it you certainly will not forget it.

    A kind of volleyball, but using ones feet instead of hands, the sport originated in Malaysia and logically enough the name derives from the Malay words "Sepak", meaning kick, and "takraw" meaning woven ball, and referring to the small ball used.

    An exhilarating combination of speed and agility the game's "for the cameras" moment is undoubtedly when a player executes a "kill". This is the equivalent of a spike in volleyball and involves a player flipping 180 degrees and executing a bicycle kick over the net.

    It is all smiles as the Vietnamese
    break the Thai stranglehold
    In Malaysia, the sport is only rivalled in popularity by football yet the men's national team's quest to recover the Asian Games gold they last won in 1994 continues after they were defeated in the men's team final by arch rivals Thailand, the other country that lays claim to inventing the game.

    The Thais failed to drop a game meaning a third straight Asian gold, the biggest prize in the game.

    However, the Thai women's team was earlier victim to a stunning upset as Vietnam thrived on a carnival atmosphere in the crowd to win a thrilling match and claim their country’s first gold of this year's games.

    The Vietnamese had looked set for a trouncing after trailing 9-0 and going down 21-13 in the first set, but clawed it back with some impressive blocking and a powerful service game.

    They won the next two sets to take the opening regu, but Thailand answered back with a combination of sturdy defending and fierce attacking play to force a deciding third regu.

    But the agile Vietnamese trio of Bach Van Nguyen, Thi Thuy An Nguyen and Thinh Thu Ba Nguyen levelled it and romped home 21-12 15-21 15-11.

    Sepatakraw - a nice test for the hamstrings
    The Vietnamese charged on to the court and fell into a huge embrace, with several players falling to their knees and bursting into tears.

    Thinh Thu Ba Nguyen, Vietnam's team captain, said: "We are very happy to win the first gold medal for Vietnam. It's been a long time waiting to beat Thailand."

    Thoughts will now turn to the Cricle and Regu tournaments and the presence of Indian and Japanese teams shows the sport is reaching beyond its traditional stronghold.

    Yet if the game ever does get Olympic status, it is hard to see the medallists coming from anywhere far from Bangkok and Kuala Lumpur.

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera and agencies


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