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Takraw, anyone? Asian Games include the offbeat

Saying the word "kabaddi" more times in one breath than your opponent can help you win a gold medal at the Asian Games.

india Updated: Oct 05, 2002 13:09 IST

Saying the word "kabaddi" more times in one breath than your opponent can help you win a gold medal at the Asian Games.

So can being able to nail a volleyball spike with your feet. Or brandish the buffest biceps.

In addition to the standard sports of athletics, swimming and the like, Asia's version of the Olympics includes some offbeat games and activities.

Kabaddi is a version of the schoolyard game of tag that is said to have its origins in medieval times among soldiers who wanted to keep fit in between battles. It is popular in rural areas of India and the subcontinent.

Two seven-member teams start on either side of a line drawn across a court. A "raider" from one team is sent across the line chanting the nonsense word "kabaddi, kabaddi, kabaddi" while trying to touch as many of the opposing team as he can. The raid lasts as long as the raider's breath — by the time he's said his last kabaddi, he should be back on his own side. If he runs out of breath or is trapped by rival players in enemy territory, his team loses points.

Defending champions India are on track to win the Asian Games gold, although some players, who traditionally play in bare feet, have complained of blisters caused by a switch to artificial turf.
Another centuries-old game is sepak takraw, which originated in villages in the Malay archipelago in the 11th century and has become popular throughout Southeast Asia.

The game is an acrobatic blend of volleyball and soccer. Players on three-member teams use can use about any part of their body except their hands to get a ball traditionally made of woven cane over a 1.52-meter (5-foot) net, producing spectacular overhead scissor kicks and mid-air somersaults.

"You know Jean-Claude Van Damme?" said Malaysian team captain Mohamad Zaki Ahmad Ezzat, referring to the Hollywood martial arts star know for his flexibility. "It's like that, only with a ball. It's hard. The training hurts."

Other events at the Asian Games include wushu, 10-pin bowling, bodybuilding and six types of billiards including 8-ball pool — an activity perhaps more associated with barrooms than gyms. Wushu is an individual or paired Chinese martial art form that incorporates jumps and twirls with weapons such as swords and poles and was featured in the film, "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon." Being offbeat doesn't mean the games aren't taken seriously by their supporters or fiercely contested by the players. And be careful how you tackle the issue of relevance. "If bodybuilding is not a sport, billiards is gambling and bowling is recreation," said Paul Chua, secretary general of the Asian Bodybuilding Federation.

He claims pumping iron is the world's fifth-largest participation sport and should be in the Olympics.

Many other officials share the view that their sports should be given greater recognition. China is asking the International Olympic Committee to include wushu on the schedule for the 2008 Beijing Games; the international sepak takraw body has filed paperwork seeking for IOC recognition, a first step to inclusion in the games. But some players and officials see safety in obscurity — they worry that bigger, richer countries could come in a take over. Southeast Asian countries, for example, have been dominant in sepak takraw for years. The sport is growing, thanks largely to a milder version that is similar to the campus pastime of hackey sack. South Korea upset Thailand in one sepak takraw event this week, prompting an outcry in Thai news media and accusations of judging irregularities.

"Once the Australians, the Americans learn how to play I don't think we'll be able to beat them," said Mohamad Zaki. "They have the extra height, they have the strength and they have more money for training and things like that." But others say that including lesser-known sports in the Olympics could give an advantage to smaller countries that might have little chance of success against the major sporting powers. "At the Olympics, countries from Southeast Asia are at a disadvantage because the body builds are smaller and there is less money," said Dr. Roongtam Ladpli, a vice president of Thailand's Olympic Committee.

"If sepak takraw was included, it would give us a better chance to win gold."

First Published: Oct 05, 2002 13:09 IST