Devotion

Asean Para Games: Schoolboy selection the catalyst for Khairul's ambition

The experience of playing in a competitive game with able-bodied team-mates was a key turning point for Khairul when he was 16. As his disability is less severe than most of his team-mates, he has adapted to a short-passing style.
The experience of playing in a competitive game with able-bodied team-mates was a key turning point for Khairul when he was 16. As his disability is less severe than most of his team-mates, he has adapted to a short-passing style.ST PHOTO: LIM SIN THAI

Because of cerebral palsy, Khairul Anwar Kasmani was always consigned to the sidelines and could only cheer his team-mates on during football matches for his school.

But after three years, his patience paid off. The Chestnut Drive Secondary 4 schoolboy was given an opportunity by their new coach, R. Rajkumar, to feature in a Schools National match against Choa Chu Kang Secondary in 2002.

"I decided to give him an opportunity to play because he really impressed me with his determination and hard work. He gave 100 per cent in training and matches," recalled Rajkumar, 50, who has taught at the school for 16 years.

Even though they eventually lost 1-5, that experience of playing in a competitive match alongside able-bodied team-mates was a key turning point in his life.

"Before that, they were afraid to put me in the team because I had cerebral palsy," recalled Khairul, now 29 and a full-time Republic Polytechnic health management and promotion student.

  • CEREBRAL PALSY FOOTBALL

  • GOLD MEDALS ON OFFER: 1

    TEAM SINGAPORE:

    MEN: Khairul Anwar Kasmani, Firdaus Mohamed Noor, Balasubramaniam Annamalai, Hitesh G. Ramchandani, Mubarak Rastam, Shafiq Ariff, Shahidil Saidi, Peter Kam, Suhaimi Sudar, Taufiq Baharin, Jeremiah Tan, Danial Ismail, Abdul Mahdi Abdul Rahman.

    LAST APG: Singapore, in their debut, lost to hosts

    Myanmar in the final of the four-team event, settling for a silver medal. This year, Indonesia is included too.

    ABOUT THE SPORT: Each team has four to seven

    players and there are two halves of 30 minutes each. Players score by kicking the ball into the opposing team's goal. For a throw-in, players can choose to roll the ball into play. There is no offside rule.

    CLASSIFICATION:

    CP5 to CP8: The higher the class, the lower the disability. Each team can have only one CP8 player and at least one CP5 or CP6 player.

A freak fall when he was just one damaged the right side of his body and subsequently hampered his movement. But physical disability (right hemiplegia) and walking with a slight limp were not the only things that hampered him.

"I always tend to perceive how people don't like us because of our condition. I would get sad easily and (lacked) confidence or self-belief," said Khairul.

But thanks to Rajkumar, who helmed the Singapore National Under-15 to U-18 teams from 2002 to 2006, as well as supportive team-mates in school, Khairul grew in confidence.

His devotion to the sport - he even joined in the push-ups and running when his team-mates were punished - was clear. Football became his obsession. He could be found at a street soccer court in Bukit Panjang every day after school with his friends.

Such is his devotion to the cause that the team captain, a fan of Manchester United who used to idolise David Beckham, has even changed his own playing style to adapt to others on Singapore's Asean Para Games team.

"I love to play long balls, (but) I have to change to a more short-passing style. These are some of the changes that I have learnt to make to adapt to playing at the team's level," said Khairul, who together with vice-captain Mubarak Rastam are the only CP7 players in the team.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 28, 2015, with the headline 'Schoolboy selection the catalyst for Khairul's ambition'. Print Edition | Subscribe