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Sports This Week: Sepak Takraw nationals held in Regina

Plan for 2023 Canada Cup to again be hosted in Regina, but set for the Labour Day weekend.
ReginaSilverMedalistsWithRickEngelRefereeSTACPresident 72
Regina silver medal winners Thein San, Layderwin Lahsoe and Win San with Richard Engel referee and STAC President.

REGINA / YORKTON - When you like sports, not a specific sport, but a broader interest in sports in general, you might find yourself spending a lazy evening touring the Internet for something a little different from hockey, baseball, or football. 

On one such excursion years ago I came upon Sepak Takraw and was frankly mesmerized. 

The sport is essentially teams of three playing what is best described as volleyball with a rattan ball, but instead of serving, passing and spiking as normal, they use their feet. 

In Sepak Takraw, teams play best out-of-three sets to win a match, with each set going to 21 points, but the set must be won by a margin of at least two points, up to a ceiling of 25 points.

The pure athletics is outstanding, and the action rather compelling, even if games online are generally from Malaysia or Thailand, the birthplace and current hotbed of the sport respectively, meaning play-by-play is rarely in English. 

Sepak Takraw began in Malaysia and is now their national sport, and the first international match was held in 1949. 

Interestingly, I would learn later that Regina is sort of the centre of Sepak Takraw in Canada – more on its arrival here in a bit – and on the long weekend the city hosted the 2022 Canadian Open Sepak Takraw Championship. 

The championship event was the first in several years, the last three cancelled due to COVID, for the Sepak Takraw Association of Canada, (STAC) hosted event. 

While in the past there have been women’s and junior divisions, this year it was just men’s, explained Richard Engel, president of STAC, adding they just wanted to kickstart things again after COVID. 

“Men’s clubs right across the country are really coming on strong again,” he said, adding unfortunately issues with air travel kept teams from Ontario at home, including a team from Thunder Bay who won the title in both 2017 and 2018 when the championship was held in Toronto. 

This year the championship attracted eight teams, including four from Saskatchewan including Weyburn, Regina, Moose Jaw and Rosthern. 

A team from Medicine Hat, (recent immigrants from Thailand) took gold, winning the final match against Regina in two straight sets, 21-11 and 21-15 with Regina being awarded silver and a Calgary team the bronze.

Layderwin Lahsoe was the captain and spiker for the silver medalists. He told Yorkton This Week the event in general and the final were both great for his team. 

The final against Medicine Hat, “it was pretty intense. They had more experience than us for sure,” he said, adding that his squad has been together “for a couple of years.” 

While the numbers were lower, Engel said the Sepak Takraw was outstanding. 

“To be honest there was a higher skill level than in any tournament we’ve put on,” offered Engel. 

Lahsoe said it was great to play against top teams. 

“It was a different experience for sure, to have top teams come and compete with us . . . It meant a lot to us,” he said. 

The Canadian winner has in the past gone on to represent the country internationally, but the world event was held this past weekend as well, so that will not be the case this year. 

Engel said it is the plan for 2023, with the Canada Cup again being hosted in Regina, but set for the Labour Day weekend. 

“Next year we’ll be more prepared for sure,” said Lahsoe. 

It was Engel who actually brought the game to Saskatchewan. 

“It all started when I was teaching English in China,” he said, explaining on a holiday he ended up travelling to Thailand and Malaysia, where he saw the sport for the first time. 

“There were kids playing over a rope in a parking lot with a rattan ball,” he said. 

When Engel returned from Asia he took a job in education helping to integrate aspects of Asian culture into curriculum courses, and Sepak Takraw was the obvious sport to introduce through physical education. 

The sport is essentially played on a badminton court, already lined in most school gyms, and the nets work too, he noted. 

Sepak Takraw “was the most popular out of what we offered,” said Engel, adding he even “learned how to kick so I could show them.” 

By 2009 Engel had started a provincial organization. 

“We grew every year, mostly through schools,” he said. 

But, in spite of having 300 members funding was lost and the association ceased. 

Fortunately the Canadian association remains, largely based in Regina, with Engel as its head. He said the focus remains for the national organization to build the numbers involved in Sepak Takraw across the country, with events like the one in Regina part of that effort.

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