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Sepak Takrew game in action

Sepak Takraw: The History, Rules And Equipment

Sepak Takraw is a team sport that is immensely popular in South-East Asia. The game has a vibrant history, but it was developed and standardized in its current form in 1960.

So what is Sepak Takraw?  It’s played by two teams of 2-4 players on a court very similar to a badminton or volleyball court. The sport is played using a rattan ball that is smaller in size than a volleyball. The mechanics of this sport bear similarity to other sports such as Volleyball and Soccer, and at first glance, it appears to be a mixture of these two sports.

The name ‘Sepak Takraw’ is a combination of two different words from two different languages. ‘Speak is a Malay word that means ‘to kick,’ while ‘Takraw’ is a Thai word that can be interpreted as woven rattan ball. Thus, Sepak Takraw translates to ‘to kick a rattan ball.’

History of Sepak Takraw

Sepak Takraw bears a resemblance to several native sports, particularly in South-East Asia. For example, Sepak Raga (in Brunei, Malaysia, and Singapore), Takraw (in Thailand), Rago (in Indonesia), Sipa (in the Philippines), Chinlone (in Myanmar), Kataw (in Laos), and Sek Dai (in Cambodia) are all different versions of Sepak Takraw that are played locally in these countries.

The exact origins of Sepak Takraw are not precisely known, but the general understanding is that the sport was introduced to Southeast Asia by the Chinese. In fact, Sepak Takraw is thought to have similar beginnings as the most popular sport in the world – association soccer. The sport is believed to have evolved from the traditional Chinese game Cuju, which FIFA also recognizes as the earliest form of modern soccer. Cuju was a form of military exercise in ancient China in which a group of soldiers would kick a leather ball amongst themselves and try to keep it airborne for as long as they could.

Historical records prove that Sepak Takraw background was popular in the Malacca Sultanate, modern-day Malaysia, as early as the 15th century. The sport finds a mention in the Malay manuscript called “Sejarah Melayu.” However, this was not a competitive sport contested between two teams but rather a fun game enjoyed by a group of individuals.

Sepak Takraw Origin

As we just mentioned, Sepak Takraw was not played as a competitive sport initially. However, the seeds of the modern competitive sport were sown simultaneously in Malaysia and Thailand during the first half of the twentieth century.

In Malaysia, the game was still called Sepak Raga, and records suggest that a competitive match was publicly played for the first time in 1935, as part of the celebrations for the Silver Jubilee of George V. The game was played on a badminton court, and in the state of Negeri Sembilan. However, the popularity of the sport soon spread to other regions, particularly in Penang. In February 1945, a Penang local Hamid Mydin put forward his version of the game, which included a net and borrowed a lot of principles from Badminton. His vision was backed by two Penang-based Sepak Raga players – Mohamad Abdul Rahman and Syed Yaacob. The new version was called “Sepak Raga Jaring” (Net Sepak Raga, and it soon gained popularity because of its quick pace and high level of athleticism.

First Tournament

The first official Sepak Takraw tournament was organized in Penang on May 16, 1945. However, the popularity of Sepak Raga Jaring soon spread from Penang to other regions such as Kedah, Kuala Lumpur, and Singapore. By 1960, the sport was famous throughout the country, and it was being played in most schools with badminton courts.

Sepak Takraw Logo
Sepak Takraw Logo

In Thailand, the Siam Sports Association drafted the first rules for the sport in 1929. In the 1930s, it is believed that the association introduced a volleyball-type net to the game and organized the first public competition. The sport’s popularity grew to such an extent that an exhibition of volleyball-style Takraw was played as part of the celebrations kingdom’s first constitution in 1933.

However, the standardization of the Sepak Takraw game on an international level only took place in the 1960s. A lot of credit for this goes to sport’s enthusiasts in Penang. On March 25, 1956, Penang Sepak Raga Sponsors’ Committee was formed. This committee then held discussions with representatives from other regions such as Selangor, Negeri Sembilan, Kedah, and Singapore to develop a national-level organization. Eventually, Malayan Sepak Raga Jaring Sponsors’ Committee was established on January 28, 1960. Furthermore, early Sepak Takraw rules and regulations were enacted on April 15 in Kuala Lumpur.

On June 25, a meeting was held in Penang, which led to the formation of the Malaysian Sepak Takraw Association (known as Malayan Sepak Raga Federation at the time). This meeting was presided over by Penang Chief Minister Wong Pow Nee. During the same meeting, Khir Johari was appointed as the organization’s first president, and Hamid Mydin was acknowledged as the founder of modern Sepak Raga.

Later in 1960, representatives from various countries such as Malaya, Singapore, Myanmar, and Thailand met in Kuala Lumpur. The objective was to standardize the regulations of the sport at the international level. After discussions, it was decided that the sport would be called Sepak Takraw henceforth.

Asian Sepak Takraw Federation was formed in 1965. In the same year, the third Southeast Asian Peninsular Games (now Southeast Asian Games) were held in Kuala Lumpur, and Sepak Takraw was included as a sport for the first time. Since then, the sport has been a significant attraction in the biennial multi-sport event.

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In the 1970 Asian Games, held in Bangkok, Malaysian and Thai teams played an exhibition Sepak Takraw match. Sepak Takraw was included as one of the medal sports in the Asian Games for the first time in 1990.

In 1985, the first-ever The King’s Cup Sepaktakraw World Championship was organized in Thailand. This tournament has become the most prestigious international event in Sepak Takraw. It is held every year in Thailand, and so far, 34 editions have been organized.

In 1988, the International Sepaktakraw Federation (ISTAF) was established. ISTAF was the first international governing body for the sport and was recognized by the Olympic Movement in 1990.

The first ISTAF World Cup was held in 2011 in Kuala Lumpur for both men and women. The second World Cup took place in 2017, and the third edition is scheduled for 2022.

Where Is It Played?

At present, there are more than 30 countries that have national-level Sepak Takraw federations recognized by ISTAF.

The 2011 World Cup saw 36 different teams and 180 athletes across men’s and women’s versions. In the Men’s version, 23 nations participated, and in the women’s division, 11 did. Most of the participating nations were from South-East Asia, but there were notable exceptions such as Australia, Japan, Iran, Germany, South Korea, France, the United States, and Switzerland. The tournament was broadcast in 68 countries.

South Asian sides still dominate the game, but some new countries like Oman, India, and Iran have emerged as strong contenders in recent years. Outside Asia, the game is still in the nascent stage.

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In the United States, Sepak Takraw gained popularity in the 1980s, especially in and around Los Angles. Asian immigrants and students brought the game to the country – mainly Malaysian, Lao, Hmong, and Thai communities. Students from Northrop University in Inglewood even participated in an international tournament in Kuala Lumpur in November 1987. Since then, the U.S. national team has featured in some major international Sepak Takraw tournaments.

Kurt Sonderegger has been the flagbearer of the sport in the country. Due to his efforts, the U.S. National Takraw Championships is now an annual feature.

Rules And How To Play

Firstly, there are multiple versions of Sepak Takraw currently played at the international level – Hoop, Doubles, and Regu. In Sepak Takraw, ‘Regu’ is also used to refer to teams. It is also the most popular version of the game, and we will focus on that.

In the Regu category, two teams (or Regus) of three players compete against each other. Each team consists of a striker, a server, and a feeder. A coin toss is used to determine which team would serve first and get their preferred side. Before the service, all players of the servicing team are expected to stand in their assigned areas – a circle for the sever and two quarter-circles next to the net for the remaining two players. The feeder is supposed to toss (or feed) the ball toward the server, and the latter must send the ball to the opposite of the net with a kick while keeping one leg in the circle. On the opposite side of the net, the server and feeder are expected to receive the service and set the ball for the striker to hit back past the net. Like Volleyball, a team is allowed three touches of the ball to send it back over the net. Sepak Takraw players are allowed to touch the ball using their feet, head, knees, and chest.

The play continues until a team fails to send the ball over the net or hit it out of the play. This awards a point to the opposite side. Next, a team is allowed to serve three times, and then the service is passed to the opposition.

The first team to reach 21 points wins the set. In case of a 20-20 tie, a tiebreaker is played – like Volleyball or Badminton. To win the match, a team must win two sets. However, the third and decisive set is only played up to 15 points, but it follows similar tiebreakers’ rules.

Sepak Takraw Ball

Sepak Takraw ball

Takraw means ‘woven rattan ball’ in the Thai language. Sepak Takraw was initially played with balls made from rattan. However, synthetic fiber or plastic has also been used to make balls recently. Sepak Takraw balls are spherical in shapes. Balls made from synthetic rubber must have 12 holes in their surface and 20 intersections. Circumference of the ball should be between 42 to 44 cm (16.5–17.3 in) for the men’s game and between 43 to 45 cm (16.9–17.7 in) for women.

Furthermore, Sepak Takraw balls should weigh from 170 to 180 g (6.0–6.3 oz) for the men’s game and from 150 to 160 g (5.3–5.6 oz) for women.

Shoes For Sepak Takraw

Sepak Takraw shoes are light in weight and have flat soles. They are made for a good grip on a surface – both indoor and outdoor. Players also use extra padding in their shoes for protection from constant jumping and landing. Nanyang is a famous Thailand brand that makes shoes for Sepak Takraw.

Sepak Takraw Court

A Sepak Takraw court resembles a badminton court. Dimensions of a Sepak Takraw are 44 ft × 20 ft (3.4 by 6.1 meters). The width of boundary lines drawn on the court should not be more than 4 centimeters (1.6 in). The centerline dividing the court into two halves should be 2 cm (0.79 in) wide.

The radius of two semi-circles drawn at both ends of center circles is 0.9 meters (2 ft 11 in). The radius of service circles is 0.3 meters. The center of a service circle is 2.45 meters from the baselines or backlines of a court.

Sepak Takraw Net

A Sepak Takraw net is very similar to the one used in Volleyball, and it is generally made of nylon. The net contains 6 cm to 8 cm mesh, very much like a volleyball net.

The net should span the width of the court and should be 0.7 m wide. The net height should be 1.52 m for men and 1.42 m for women at the center of the court, and 1.55m for men, and 1.45 m for women at posts.

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