AS THE rattan ball is deftly bounced by light kicks, it is passed to the next player who bobs the ball dexterously with his feet.
But the somersault smash-kick that has come to characterise sepak takraw never comes.
This is chinlone – Myanmar’s traditional sport of gracefully juggling the ball with one’s feet, knees, chest and head in the playing circle.
It looks more artistic than sporty and the game has ignited debate on whether it should be contested at the SEA Games.
Since the Seap Games’ inception in 1959, there has been a fair share of novelty sports such as fin swimming, shuttlecock kicking and an obscure Vietnamese martial art that made its debut in the 2003 edition.
But chinlone, introduced at the Myanmar Games two years ago and included in the just-concluded edition, will likely remain a regular fixture at Asean’s biennial sports meet.
Asian Sepak Takraw Federation president Abdul Halim Kader said: “With the continuation of chinlone in this SEA Games, I am confident it will be included again for the next SEA Games (in Malaysia).
“I also plan to bring chinlone to the 2018 Asian Games in Jakarta.”
Although competed just twice at the Games and unfamiliar to many sports fans, chinlone actually pre-dates sepak takraw.
“Chinlone is what sepak takraw evolved from,” said Chris Chan, chairman of the SEA Games sports and rules committee.
“It was also known as sepak takraw bulatan or sepak raga bulatan, where bulatan means circle.”
First played by Burmese royalty 1,500 years ago, almost a millennium before sepak takraw, chinlone was featured at international sepak takraw competitions until the 1980s before it went into decline.
Sepak takraw bulatan was last played in the 78th and 84th Asian Sepak Takraw Championships in the 1980s.
The sport saw its return when Myanmar, hosts of the 2013 SEA Games, decided to leverage on their position to propose having chinlone in the 27th Games.
However, instead of allowing it to be a one-off novelty, Thailand, Laos and Cambodia have already converted some of their sepak takraw players to specialise in chinlone.
Singapore and Malaysia are hiring Myanmar coaches to improve standards.
“We are doing what we can to promote chinlone to other countries,” said Asian Chinlone Federation’s joint secretary general Pyae Sone Myint.
“And we are happy to send our coaches to train with other teams or train foreign teams.”
In Singapore, chinlone may surface in school CCAs soon.
Said Abdul Halim: “After this SEA Games, I plan to bring chinlone to primary schools and eventually form a national team specialising in chinlone.
“This is also an opportunity to form teams that are not predominantly Malay as it should be a sport for all to enjoy.”