Underwater Hockey, anyone?

The national underwater hockey women's team tussling for the puck in training. They finished 11th out of 13 teams at the world championships in Stellenbosch, South Africa, in 2016.
The national underwater hockey women's team tussling for the puck in training. They finished 11th out of 13 teams at the world championships in Stellenbosch, South Africa, in 2016.PHOTO: WILSON ZHANG

Unusual sports hopeful that SEA Games participation can help their numbers grow

Kok Kiat Han is used to the strange looks he gets at Queenstown Swimming Complex every week. Donning a snorkel and carrying a plastic stick, he is part of Singapore's underwater hockey team that trains at the pool.

What started as a hobby for the 26-year-old has now become serious business, with underwater hockey set to feature for the first time at this year's SEA Games.

Another eight niche sports making their debut at the biennial Games are breaking (dancesport), e-sports, beach handball, jiu-jitsu, kurash, sambo, skateboarding and surfing.

They are among the 49 sports in which Singapore are participating at the Nov 30-Dec 11 Games in the Philippines. The team will comprise 585 athletes, their largest away contingent at the Games.

A traditional folk wrestling sport with roots in Central Asia, kurash is understandably unknown to most Singaporeans, but its inclusion at the biennial Games is a significant step towards greater exposure, noted Kurash Federation of Singapore general secretary Alvin Lim.

The association will send two exponents to the Games and Lim hopes interest in it will grow.

He said:"It'll help with visibility of the sport. People always don't know about kurash. This could also help bring in new talent."

MORE THAN MEETS THE EYE

Outsiders see skateboarding as a nuisance, but we want to highlight that skateboarding requires passion, dedication and commitment.

MUHAMMAD REZAL RAMLI, Singapore Rollersports Federation vice-president of skateboarding.

Exponent Joel Tseng, 24, represented Singapore at the 2013 SEA Games in judo, but got into kurash a year ago when his friends introduced it to him.

"I feel quite excited, I didn't think there would be many opportunities so soon. I expected them to come in one or two years' time," said Tseng, who will compete in the men's under-73kg category.

"It was in last year's Asian Games and it gained a little bit of exposure, but that's still something.

"I think if you give it a bit more time, it can grow."

While the public are more familiar with sports like skateboarding, many have a negative perception of it, said Muhammad Rezal Ramli, vice-president of skateboarding at the Singapore Rollersports Federation.

He added: "Outsiders see skateboarding as a nuisance, but we want to highlight that skateboarding requires passion, dedication and commitment."

Skateboarder Nur Farah Atika, 21, who will feature in the women's Street category, hopes to encourage more females to take up the male-dominated sport.

For the beach handballers, all of whom are part-timers with school or work commitments, getting the nod from the Singapore National Olympic Council (SNOC) was vindication of their sacrifices.

Handball Federation of Singapore president Hong Zhen You said: "For the past one year, training has been two to three times a week. Some players who participate in both indoor and beach handball have been training four to five times weekly.

"We are appreciative towards the players who have to travel down to Sentosa and have no fixed training ground."

Team Singapore returned from the 2017 Kuala Lumpur Games with 58 golds, 59 silvers and 72 bronzes, their best haul from an away Games.

His athletes will be making their debut but Jujitsu Association of Singapore president Henry Kothagoda was bullish about their chances of podium finishes in the Philippines.

He said: "We are reasonably hopeful for two or three bronzes or silver. Gold is tough but of course we'll try for it."

Singapore's contingent could increase in the coming weeks. The SNOC said on Thursday: "Athletes who have yet to meet the qualifying criteria have till Aug 27 to meet the selection criteria of at least a third-place finish at the South-east Asian level.

"New results which had clearly met the third placing benchmark of the 2017 SEA Games will be considered."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 03, 2019, with the headline 'Underwater Hockey, anyone?'. Print Edition | Subscribe