Sepak Takraw Kicks Off in Southeast Asia

Sepak Takraw Kicks Off in Southeast Asia
Sepak Takraw Kicks Off in Southeast Asia

I’ve played volleyball, I’ve played kickball, I’ve even played hacky sack, but I’ve never combined them into a single sport like sepak takraw.

Sepak takraw, or kick volleyball, is a sport native to Southeast Asia. Sepak takraw uses a rattan ball, rather than a leather ball like in volleyball, and players are only allowed to use their feet, knees, chest and head to touch the ball “Sepak” is the Malay word for kick, and “takraw” is the Thai word for a woven ball. Therefore, sepak takraw quite literally means “to kick ball”. The earliest historical evidence shows the game was played in the 15th century in the Malaysian state of Malacca.

From there it spread across the strait to Indonesian, before the Malay people spread across the archipelago and beyond. In Bangkok, murals at Wat Phra Kaew (built in 1785), depict the Hindu god Hanuman playing sepak takraw in a ring with a troop of monkeys. Other historical accounts mention the game earlier during the reign of King Naresuan (1590–1605) of Ayutthaya.

The first versions of sepak takraw were not so much of a competition, but rather cooperative displays of skill played in a circle designed to exercise the body, improve dexterity and loosen the limbs after long periods of sitting, standing or working. In fact, it stayed that way for hundreds of years. The modern version of sepak takraw only began taking shape in Thailand sometime during the early 1740s. But it wasn’t until 1829 that the Siam Sports Association drafted the first rules for a takraw competition, and four years later introduced the volleyball-style net and held the first public contest.

Within a few years, takraw was introduced to the curriculum in Siamese. By the 1940s, the net version of the game had spread throughout Southeast Asia, formal rules were introduced, and the sport became officially known as sepak takraw. International play is now governed by the International Sepak Takraw Federation (ISTAF). Major competitions include the ISTAF SuperSeries, the ISTAF World Cup and the King’s Cup World Championships. A match is played by two teams, each consisting of three players. One of the three players is in the back and known as the “tekong”. The other two players are in front – one on the left and the other on the right, and known as “left inside” and “right inside”.