Sepak Takraw: The Sport Where Only The Skilful Survive

Joel Harvey

It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a sportsperson in possession of immense skills, must play Sepak Takraw. Because the Southeast Asian cross between football and volleyball is technically insane. And only those with the ability to over-head kick a flea that’s sitting on top of a pea every five minutes, will be able to master it.

Sepak Takraw is not a sport for the Tony Adams’ of this planet. You can’t sit back, curmudgeonly defend your lines, and wave your hands in the air to appeal every opposition point. In the game, three players on each side take to court. A woven ball called a rattan (not unlike a rubber band ball) is served and the object is to get the rattan ball into the opposing half to score. Simple, huh? Oh it’s not, because you can only use your feet, knee, chest or head to volley the ball over a 1.5 metre high net.

The game’s origins date back to 15th century Malaysia, when the son of a Sultan murdered an opposing player for kicking the ball at his head. After a few discussions, those that played decided that murderous conclusions to a game were not the way forward for the sport. A respectful handshake might be the best way to end a game instead, and the game thrived after this.

It became incredibly popular across Malaysia, Thailand, and Indonesia. As well as popular with drunken English back-packers, who mistakenly convince themselves that they too can play, before making fools of themselves and throwing up all over the net.

If you’ve ever seen the excellent Shaolin Soccer (and if you haven’t, please do), then Sepak Takraw will seem pretty familiar. Except it doesn’t tend to break the laws of physics. It’s probably the most realistic interpretation of Shaolin Soccer going though, as players leap into the air and pull off ridiculous Pelé-esque moves to reach the ball. It’s a game where such show-boating is rewarded in spades.

Remember when a football coach taught you the basics and the fundamentals of football? Forget it. All of it. Because Sepak Takraw is football without the basics, without the fundamentals. There is no bread-and-butter in Sepak Takraw, only champagne-and-caviar. There’s no wet Tuesday night at Stoke, only stunning sunshine at the Nou Camp every Saturday, where every player on the field is a clone of Lionel Messi.

The problem with such a sport then, is that it normalises such immense talent and skill. Suddenly, the incredible becomes the mundane. There’s no shade to the light, as everyone who plays it is a master of skills that us norms can only dream about. How do you achieve greatness, when everyone around you is already GOAT? It’s a hard question to answer, but thankfully those who live in England don’t have to answer it. We’re gloriously average at everything, which is probably why Sepak Takraw has failed to take off over here.

If it did though, we’re putting our early money on a post-retirement Peter Crouch to become England’s ambassador for the sport.



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