New sports at SEA Games: Beach handball, underwater hockey and…sambo?

Simon Lee (left) watches his teammate Jonathan Chan challenge for the puck against the Philippines at the 7th Asian Underwater Hockey Championship in 2017. Photo: Stirling Underwater Hockey Club

22 Aug 2019

By Ignatius Koh

You may never have heard of these sports, but don’t worry, chances are you are not alone. For the first time, SEA Games in November will have these new sports which may sound as alien as aliens. But it’s okay, we are here to help. Since Team Singapore athletes will be participating in these games, we will tell you how hockey can be played in water. Really.

Teo Kee Chong (right) gears up for a shot in a training session with the national team. Photo: Justin Low

Beach handball: Sand in style

In an arena on uneven ground, Teo Kee Chong rises to meet a pass and unleashes a mid-air shot that ripples the back of the net. The left winger has just scored two points with one strike.

Goals like this, similar to “alley-oops” in basketball, and from 360-degree spins count for double in beach handball, where stylish plays are rewarded.

“The game is intense and gives you more points for extra effort, so I constantly find myself trying to score these style points more,” said Teo, 23, who also represents Singapore in indoor handball.

Beach handball bears little resemblance to the indoor version, apart from requiring to throw the ball into the goal. The court is smaller, and its tight quarters and sandy base provide trickier obstacles.

“The footwork is different and the ground is unpredictable. Sometimes you won’t know whether you can fully execute a jump or sprint because the sand isn’t flat,” explained Teo, who first played the sport in 2016.

Beach handball is expected to be hotly contested, with Thailand and Vietnam eyeing top spot. Singapore is aiming for a podium finish. “The whole team is committed to do our best and with our preparations, we can push for a medal,” said the National University of Singapore undergraduate.

Beach handball rules:

The game is played on sand courts by two teams of four. A match consists of two 10-minute halves that are scored independently, meaning a team has to win both halves to be victorious; a shootout will ensue if a tie occurs. To up the ante, players are rewarded for style. By scoring in spectacular fashion, they can earn two points instead of one.

Ryan Tay (in red) takes down his Malaysian opponent at the 2nd Southeast Asia Sambo Championships in June this year. Photo: Jagsport

Sambo: Made in Russia

Ryan Tay’s mother thought he was picking up dancing after his switch from judo to sambo. Not to be confused with the Brazilian samba, sambo is a martial art from Russia.

There are two categories – combat and sport. The former incorporates mixed martial arts-style punches with throws while the latter, which Tay competes in, involves more grappling and leg locks.

The 20-year-old full-time national serviceman had been a competitive judoka since 2011, but made the switch to sambo early this year after his NS commitments prevented him from participating in the judo qualifiers.

“It was hard to get used to sambo at first because unlike judo, you are not restricted to upper body moves. But now I can be more creative with my strategy,” said Tay, who clinched a gold medal in his first competition at the Southeast Asia Sambo Championships in June.

With his newfound love already reaping rewards, he hopes to win gold in November. “I think I have a good shot. Anything can happen but I will push for the top.”

Sambo rules:

A quick grapple, followed by a leg lock and flip will have opponents on their backs and facing the ceiling in an instant. That is the beauty of sambo, which was developed in the 1920s. During a match, two players face off in a ring and score points for each successful grapple or lock. The aim is to finish the match as quickly as possible, and the victor can be decided either by points gained or submission.

Underwater hockey: Sticks in water

Simon Lee feels most at home when he is controlling the puck, distributing it to his teammates and creating plays out of nothing – all while holding his breath underwater.

Underwater hockey is a sport that vaguely resembles its land counterpart but instead of running, players dive and swim to compete.

“A lot of the game is mind over matter. The hardest part is holding your breath because you get excited and there’s a lot of adrenaline pumping,” explained Lee, who started playing nine years ago.

Despite being one of the elder statesmen in the team, the 45-year-old remains robust since joining the national team in 2013. He has been to regional tournaments and even as far as South Africa and Cuba.

“It’s quite a niche sport so I see the same people at most tournaments,” said the operational risk manager.

He fancies Singapore’s chances against strong teams from Indonesia and hosts Philippines. Singapore is the 2015 and 2017 Asian Underwater Hockey Championship winner. “I know we’ll bring the fight to them.”

Underwater hockey rules:

The sport is a test of breath-holding and accuracy. Invented by the British Navy in the 1950s to keep its divers in shape, this non-contact sport sees two teams of six face off in a swimming pool. Players score by hitting the puck into the opponent’s goal using a stick attached to their gloves, and the team with more points wins. Players have to resurface for air regularly.