BEIJING: As London prepares to welcome the world’s top athletes at the Olympics, a little-known Chinese seaside town is gearing up to host the champions of some rather more obscure sports at the Asian Beach Games.
More than 2,000 athletes will descend on Haiyang on China’s east coast on Saturday to compete in sports such as beach sepaktakraw — a cross between volleyball and football — and beach kabaddi, a highly physical mix of tag and wrestling.
Among the more mainstream sports at the seven-day tournament, held every two years, are sailing and beach volleyball, with top players due in Haiyang ahead of the Olympic showdown on London’s Horseguards Parade this summer.
But the crossover with the Games ends there.
Thai athletes will hit the beach to defend their title in sepaktakraw, also known as “kick volleyball” — a highly energetic game where players use their feet, heads and chests to throw a rattan ball over the net.
“Thailand remains the powerhouse” of the sport, said Abdul Halim Bin Kader, head of the International Sepaktakraw Federation. The Southeast Asian nation is the reigning Asian Beach Games champion for both the mens’ and womens’ teams.
India, meanwhile, will be looking to keep its gold medal in beach kabaddi — a game that combines the characteristics of wrestling and rugby.
Each four-player team has to score points by sending a so-called “raider” into the opponent’s court, who has to touch as many defence players as possible while chanting the word “kabaddi.”
The players who are touched by the “raider” will be sent out if they do not succeed in catching him before he returns to home court. The sport is very popular in India, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Iran.
The athletes taking part in this year’s Asian Beach Games hail from 45 countries such as Japan, Kazakhstan, or Yemen.
Other sports include powered paragliding, where athletes wearing a propeller on their back sit in a seat below a paraglider wing, and take to the skies to show off their flying and landing skills.
“It’s a little bit dangerous because it’s the only event where the athletes are flying and the wind here can be very strong “ said Jiang Zhongshui, one of the organisers of the Asian Beach Games, on the official website.
Home fans of the more mainstream discipline of beach volleyball, meanwhile, are likely to be disappointed as China’s star Xue Chen is not expected to participate due to a small ligament injury. She is however expected to recover and compete in the London Olympics.