Written by John O’Callaghan
Photographed by Beawiharta
Take the Malay word for kick and pair it with the Thai word for a hollow, woven ball and you have sepak takraw, the name of the acrobatic, lightning-fast Southeast Asian sport in which players use feet, legs, chest and head—no hands—to power a ball over a badminton-style net. (Think “kick volleyball.”) It’s been played across the region for more than three centuries, and recent decades have brought international agreements on rules that have led in turn to local and national leagues, tournaments in schools and capitals—all pushing sepak takraw onto an increasingly global sports stage. With more than two dozen countries now fielding national teams, the sport’s leading promoters have set their eyes on the Olympics.