Five unusual sports you must see at the Asian Games

Anybody up for some sepak takraw?

The Asian Games get underway in Indonesia this weekend.

As with any major multi-sport competition, athletics, swimming, and gymnastics will be crowd favourites.

But there are other slightly less common sports taking place in Jakarta and Palembang.

Here's the Olympic Channel guide to some unusual sports you need to see at the Games.

Sepak takraw

Indonesia against Laos in women's doubles sepaktakraw at the 2013 Southeast Asian Games. (Photo by Suhaimi Abdullah/Getty Images)

What is it?

A Southeast Asian sport, played with wicker or rattan balls. Sepak takraw has been described as kick volleyball, with players not allowed to touch the ball with their hands.

Matches are best of three sets, with 21 points needed to win the first two sets. If the score is tied at 20–20, play continues until a team has won by two clear points, or has reached 25 points. Should the match be level after two sets, a tiebreak set is played to 15 points. If the third set is tied at 14–14, play continued until a team has won by two clear points, or has reached 17 points.

Six events will occur in Palembang: men's team doubles (three matches of three sets each), men's regu (three players a side), men's and women's team regu (three matches of three sets each), and men's and women's quadrant (four players a side).

Ones to watch

The sport made its Asiad debut in Beijing in 1990, and has not been dropped from the schedule since.

Of the 33 gold medals awarded in sepak takraw up to Incheon 2014, Thailand have won 22, making them the most successful country.

The last time the Thais failed to win a sepak takraw gold medal was 2006, when Vietnam clinched two titles.

Pornchai Kaokaew of Thailand is the most successful player in Asian Games history. The 37-year-old has eight gold medals to his name, with two golds from each of the last four Asiads.


Aya Aoki of Japan 'raiding' against Iran in women's kabaddi at the 2014 Asian Games. (Photo by Stanley Chou/Getty Images)

What is it?

Originating from India, kabaddi is perhaps most well-known for the repeated chanting of "kabaddi, kabaddi, kabaddi" by players during matches.

It is a contact sport, with one player from the attacking side, a "raider", needing to tag as many defensive players as possible before making it back to his half of the court. 

The catch? He or she has to hold his breath, hence the chanting out loud to show the raider has not taken an extra breath. Defenders are allowed to tackle the raider. A point is scored for every player the raider tags, while the defending team scores a point for every raider who is unsuccessful.

There are two events in kabaddi: men's team and women's team.

Ones to watch

Like sepak takraw, men's kabaddi first appeared at Beijing 1990, while women's competitions began eight years ago in Guangzhou.

India have never lost a match at the Asian Games, taking all nine gold medals in the sport's history.

They'll look to keep that run going in Jakarta.

Soft tennis

Zhong Yi of China returns a shot against Stefanie Maya Rosa Ariana of Indonesia in a soft tennis match at the 2014 Asian Games. (Photo by Lintao Zhang/Getty Images)

What is it?

It's like tennis. But, as its name suggests, it's played with a softer ball. And there are also a few significant differences.

Soft tennis was developed in Japan and follows most of the rules of normal tennis, but uses smaller racquets and a rubber ball. Additionally, athletes play only a single set

Singles play is best-of-seven (first to four games), while doubles is best-of-nine (first to five). Each game is first to four points, and similar to tennis, players must win two points consecutively if there is a deuce.

Five gold medals are on offer this year, in men's and women's singles, men's and women's team, and mixed doubles.

Ones to watch

Soft tennis got its Asian Games start at Hiroshima 1994, after it was a demonstration sport four years previously.

South Korea have won 23 of the 36 gold medals, and only four other countries have appeared on the podium.

Kim Beomjun won three titles on home soil at Incheon four years ago and will attempt to repeat the feat in Palembang.


Su Shih Lin of Chinese Taipei throws Bui Thi Hoa of Vietnam in a kurash match during the 2013 Asian Indoor and Martial Arts Games. (Photo by Chris McGrath/Getty Images)

What is it?

'Kurash', which can be spelled in a number of different ways, means wrestling in a few Turkic languages.

It can be considered a traditional martial art from Central Asia, which borrows techniques from judo and wrestling. The aim is to throw your opponent on his back.

Similar to an ippon in judo, the top score in kurash, a halal, ends a bout. Two yambosh add up to a halal.

Medals will be awarded in seven weight categories: four for men and three for women.

Ones to watch

The sport is making its first appearance at the Asian Games, but has previously appeared at the Asian Indoor and Martial Arts Games. Beach kurash has also been an Asian Beach Games sport.

Athletes from Uzbekistan are the current world champions in five of the seven events being contested in Jakarta. There was no men's over-90 kg competition at the world championships, while the women's under-63 world title is currently held by Lee Wanting of Chinese Taipei. Lee also won bronze in a different weight class at last year's Asian Indoor and Martial Arts Games.

Roller speed skating

Roller speed skating athletes warm up at the 2017 World Games. (Photo by Matthias Hangst/Bongarts/Getty Images)

What is it?

Similar to speed skating at the Olympics, except that athletes wear roller skates instead of ice skates and compete on a track or a road circuit.

It's sometimes known as inline speed skating, and is a sport at the World Games. Athletes in inline or roller skating have gone on to become Winter Olympic athletes in speed skating. In fact, Belgium's PyeongChang 2018 silver medallist Bart Swings currently holds the men's track 1000m roller skating world record.

There is only one event each for men and women in Palembang: the 20 km elimination road race. The men's 20 km world record, which stands at 28.56.189, was set by two-time speed skating Olympian Joey Mantia.

Ones to watch

Roller speed skating has only appeared in the Games once before, at Guangzhou 2010 when there were six track events.

Women's 20 km world record holder Lee Seul of South Korea isn't competing in Indonesia. But Chinese Taipei's Yang Ho-chen, who finished fifth in this event at this year's world championships, will take to the start line.

On the men's side, South Korean 2014 world bronze medallist Choi Gwang-ho is one of the favourites.