Sepaktakraw’s lone female fighter

Hina Rafique Rajput continues to struggle to promote the game in the country


Natasha Raheel March 31, 2015
The Hyderabad-based Hina, who began as a high-jump athlete, decided to instead pursue a career in another sport. Hence began her venture into the lesser known sepaktakraw — a South-East Asian game — in 2009. PHOTO COURTESY: SINDH SEPAKTAKRAW ASSOCIATION

KARACHI: Hina Rafique Rajput is an international bronze medal winning athlete. Hina Rafique Rajput lives her life in dull anonymity.

The Hyderabad-based Hina, who began as a high-jump athlete, decided to instead pursue a career in another sport. Hence began her venture into the lesser known sepaktakraw — a South-East Asian game — in 2009.

Sepaktakraw is also known as foot-volley, and requires the athletes to use their heads, feet and chest to keep a rattan ball off the court floor — à la volleyball but without the use of hands.

Unknown to those back home, she was an instant success and guided Pakistan to a top-three finish in the 2011 World Championship.

“The sport has been around for a decade now, I was among the first few athletes to take it up in the country,” Hina told The Express Tribune. “I began taking interest in sepaktakraw in 2009, and within two years we were able to go to the world championships. We finished third at the King's Cup Sepaktakraw Championship that included teams from Malaysia, Thailand — the sport’s country of origin — and the US.”

Her exploits may have won her little fame or recognition but Hina regrets nothing. “It was the most memorable moment of my life,” she said. “I achieved what I dreamt of — to win a medal for Pakistan. I know it wasn’t athletics, but this wasn’t just any other international tournament; it was the world championship.”

However, as it turned out, winning an international accolade is sometimes easier compared to introducing a new sport and promoting it in local circles. The 28-year-old participated and helped in organising the inaugural Sindh Sports Board (SSB) Sepaktakraw Championship last week.

The championship, she said, was a major breakthrough as many men’s championships have taken place before but never a women’s one before this. “People still don’t understand this sport, but slowly it is growing,” said Hina, who helped Hyderabad clinch the title at Karachi’s Deva Academy. “People still wonder what sepaktakraw is, and sometimes they turn away because they don’t understand the name, but the more curious ones stick around.”

However, bringing such curious minds to the game is not easy. Hina, who works as a physical training instructor, uses her day job to attract potential new recruits. “I feel that it is easier to lead by example,” she said. “I play sepaktakraw in front of my students and they often like it — attracted by the unusual jumps and kicks.”

Hina has no intentions on resting her laurels after the SSB championship though. She now wants take the sport into the other provinces. Neither is she satisfied with her own personal exploits. In a relentless effort to improve, Hina trains for at least three hours every day but said that few athletes, especially the female ones, have access to the right dietary requirements. “I end up going through my day on several cups of tea and then right before the championship I eat healthy food, juices, milk and energy drinks,” she said. “Generally it’s more about training and making ends meet.”

Now the world championships are upon Hina and Pakistan again. And in May, she hopes to at the very least retain third place.

“Both the men’s and the women’s teams are great,” she said. “We managed to beat 20 other countries the last time, despite limited resources and sponsorship, and I’m hoping to win another medal this time.”

 

Help from abroad

Hina is not alone in her struggles. Sindh Sepaktakraw Association official Arif Hafeez revealed two coaches from Myanmar visited Karachi two months ago to train the players for the upcoming championship.

“The training with the foreign coaches really helped our players and the SSB championship proved it,” said Hafeez. “The female athletes performed well. Hina was trained by the coaches and is now coaching the other girls. Even the male athletes come to Deva Academy every Sunday to practice what they learned from the foreign coaches.”

Sepaktakraw and Hina continue to struggle in anonymity, away from the eyes of sports lovers, but their struggle is one that has brought quite a lot of tangible success — a struggle they will continue for some time to come until perhaps one day the sport is spoken of in the same breath as others in the country.

 
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