Mr. Alex Yuan Hua is the Director of the sport of Sepaktakraw in the Multiball Games Administrative Center of the General Administration of Sport of China. Under his leadership and support, the 2019 Asian Sepaktakraw Championship was hosted in China for the first time, and a record number of 27 teams from 17 countries competed in this tournament. Yutang Sports interviewed him regarding its current status and the potential of the sport of Sepaktakraw in China. This is the second part of the interview.
Yutang Sports: From the games played in this tournament, it looks like China is playing well.
Yuan Hua: The development of Sepaktakraw is not balanced. There are three tiers, and China is at the bottom of the second tier. In the first tier, there is Thailand, and Thailand only. They are so good that there is a huge gap between them and the countries in the second tier. The second tier includes countries such as Malaysia and Indonesia. China can be ranked at best at the lower end of the second tier. There may be seven or eight countries in the second tier, and China is at the bottom. There is a large gap between China and the best countries in the second tier.
In terms of skills, the situation is not looking good for China. The top-performing players have reached their peak, and it’s unlikely that they will get much better. To be up there with the best countries it’s not easy considering the current environment for the sport. That’s why we are working hard and investing a lot to host more tournaments and promotion. Because Sepaktakraw is neither an official sport in the Olympic Games, nor an official sport in the National Games of the People’s Republic of China, the government won’t spend a lot to build professional Sepaktakraw teams. Therefore we are considering starting a Sepaktakraw professional league, but that depends on how much funding we can get from sponsors. We have done the number crunching. To start a league that consists of 8 teams and allows these teams to play home and away, we need an initial funding of 2 ~ 3 million RMB. And that is for the men’s teams only. 2 million is the minimum. If we can get the money, we can start the league. Instead of organizing a National Sepaktakraw Championship, we would arrange the best teams to play the league for 4 months, with 14 rounds. Maybe one round every week. And then we can talk about cooperation with streaming sites. We can get professional commentators, and we can get sponsors. But first of well, we need to find that seed money.
On top of that, we need to find people who are willing to pay the salaries of players. Normally, sponsorship money is used to pay expenses of the tournaments, including transportation and hotels. For players to be able to practice daily, there must be someone paying them salaries. And owners of teams vary. Some may be rich and pay players more, and some are not so rich who pay players less. So, our vision is to first find a company that is willing to pay to be the title sponsor, and then we find investors for every club.
There doesn’t have to be many players at first. 4 will be enough for now. The owners will pay them salaries every month for them to practice daily, and go out to play league games on the weekends. The expenses of the league games will be paid by the league, including flight tickets, food and lodging. We have made the plan, but I don’t know how the market will respond.
Yutang Sports：The 2022 Asian Games will be held in Hangzhou, and Sepaktakraw is again one of the sports in the Games. That will be another international Sepaktakraw event hosted in China. What are your plans for the Chinese National Sepaktakraw Teams to play well in the Asian Games?
Yuan Hua: We of course want our national teams to make a breakthrough at the Asian Games held in our home country. So far, our best result has been a silver medal. We would love to get a gold medal, but it won’t be easy. We do not have extremely good and promising players right now, and we do not have favorable policies that would help promising players to be discovered and developed. After all, from the perspective of practicing, three years is only a beginning. But the Asian Games is only three years away, so time is not in our favor.
I realized that if we do not bring in top international tournaments, and only use every year’s King’s Cup to have our young players experience the real battle, some of whom do not even get the chance to play, then they can’t really improve. Expecting them to play at the top level is unrealistic if we cannot change the way things work.
Just like a sharpshooter. How can someone become a sharpshooter without practicing a million times? Top players become top players through playing lots of games, and sharpshooters become sharpshooters by firing lots of bullets. Playing only against other players from China is not enough. We currently do not have enough funding for them to practice daily, but even if we do, practicing only within China won’t be of huge help, even if they practice daily.
We need to host more international tournaments and have our players experience big games. Take this Championship as an example. Our teams did not play well. Because I’m in charge of the management and operation of this tournament, I have not had much time to watch them play, but I can see they panicked when they were playing. They haven’t played at home before so many home fans, so they got nervous. If we do not implement changes, and these players get to play in the Asian Games, it’s hard to imagine them playing well. Their legs may even shake on the court.
Therefore, my plan is, as we prepare for the Asian Games, we will bring in top international Sepaktakraw tournaments, and with the government’s support, we will travel to practice in Myanmar, in Thailand, or in Vietnam. We are considering co-building the national teams with some provinces, but that is so that the players will have a chance to continue playing the sport, and that we won’t lose these players because no one would pay them salaries. However, if we could get a professional league going, then that won’t be necessary. With a league in place, the players will play Sepaktakraw as a job, so they will practice every day with enthusiasm. It won’t be easy to build a league, but you need to dream big. If you asked me a year ago, I would not have believed that we could host such a grand tournament in Kunming. So, everything is possible.