Club Focus: Sepak Takraw on the rise

Rory Clarke talks to the P.R.O. of the newly-reinvigorated UCD Sepak Takraw club to hear how the club is going from strength-to-strength.

Sepak Takraw is one of the newest clubs to join the university’s sporting scene. For many, the first question to ask is “what exactly is it?”. Luckily, Ife Chinaka, the club’s enthusiastic Public Relations Officer,  was on hand to provide the answer to this question, and the (many) questions which followed it, clarifying both the technical and social points of the game. According to Chinaka “it’s a sport native to Southeast Asia, which involves the use of a rattan ball [a hollow ball woven of a native flexible wood]. It is similar to footvolley in that you can only use feet, knee, head and chest to control the rattan ball.”

How it is played competitively is broadly similar to games of football tennis, which many of us have played in training around the country – as a session-ending lark or competition. Although it originally began as a mutual admiration for people’s skills (and indeed, this art-based form of the game is still prioritised in Myanmar): formal rules, along with a net, were introduced in the 1940s.

The game has risen from abject obscurity in Ireland (and UCD) to a passing knowledge of the name – without any idea of its contents, its name is, in its own way, quite instructive. “Sepak” is the Malay word for kick, whilst “takraw” is how the rattan balls are described in Thailand. It does what it says on the tin (‘kick a ball’), albeit in a different language.

Despite, as Chinaka freely admits, taking people “out of their comfort zone,” sepak takraw also echoes with the nostalgia of past days of keepy-uppies on the street. “It is a fun, new sport If you want to try a new sport with transferrable fundamental skills – football skills will do you well!” Clearly this pitch has been, and continues to be successful.

The UCD Sepak Takraw has grown exponentially in recent years. Since being founded several years ago, by a group of Malaysian students who wanted to play one of their native sports while abroad, the tradition has become fostered by a passionate group of UCD students. Chinaka agrees that “we [the students] have taken it over, continuing what they started”. Having saved the club from a premature end last year, the determined committee has managed to more than triple their membership this year, revamping their social media presence in the process, reaching 2,500 likes on their club’s Facebook page. This is all the more remarkable for the club’s lack of official college funding thus far. It has been promoted and maintained, nearly in full, by the hard work of these admirable students.

To combat this crippling lack of funding, the club has taken to hosting a number of fundraising events, most notably a table quiz in Semester 1 which was a “very successful evening for the club and the turnout was very good.” Chinaka speaks fondly of this night, a highlight of his in the club, “seeing everyone turn out for an event we put a lot of effort into preparing was great and very rewarding.”

The club praises its social aspect, particularly given that due to their solo status as a 3rd level sepak takraw team in Ireland. I’m told that “most of the committee are close friends which is how most got started with sepak takraw. This friendship between us allows us to create a club that has a very good balance between the social and more serious aspects of the club, whilst retaining that welcoming feel.”

The club has a training session every week from Wednesday at 5-7pm. Chinaka encourages anyone who’s interested in giving the sport a go, or even seeing in person what it’s like, to come down and chat to one of the committee.