Ready to floor their rivals at SEA Games

Ready to floor their rivals at SEA Games
National floorballer Sri Syafizah Safii (centre), 24, taking control of the ball during a training session at ITE Simei.

Such is Singapore Floorball Association president Sani Mohd Salim's confidence in his players' ability to deliver at next year's SEA Games, he simply chuckled when asked about their chances of success.

"We'll be like the water polo team," he told The Sunday Times, making reference to the all-conquering men's team that have won every water polo gold at the biennial Games since the 1965 edition.

His confidence in the national floorballers stems from sterling results compared with other teams in the region.

The men's national team were Asia-Pacific champions in 2012 and fourth in the latest edition behind Japan, Australia and South Korea. The women's team are also fourth behind the same trio. Both teams have also previously qualified for the world championships, the biggest stage for the non-Olympic sport.

The floorballers also took the men's and women's golds at the Myanmar SEA Games last December, when it was a demonstration sport.

Said Sani: "I'm not being arrogant, but we've been developing the sport since 1996, and we have the edge whether it's in technique, players or coaches."

With about 15,000 active players - mainly students - the Republic has a significant head start over its regional neighbours in the sport, a type of indoor hockey that has its origins in Scandinavia.

There are at least five countries in South-east Asia - Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand, Indonesia, and the Philippines - that are active in the sport.

Said women's team centre player Sri Syafizah Safii, a 24-year-old who has been playing the sport since the age of nine: "Singapore has the golden boys. I think we can have golden girls as well. We are pretty confident that we can take this on."

Added Lee Ren Ji, 28, a defender on the men's team who has played the sport for six years: "I've only ever competed in overseas tournaments and never in front of a home crowd.

"It's very competitive within the team now and no player is guaranteed a place, but everyone wants to be a part of this because they know the support will be tremendous."

The teams train twice a week on court, also spending time on video analysis and fitness training.

Their ability to trounce the competition could give Team Singapore a boost in the team sports department.

Team-sport golds have been a rarity for Singapore at the SEA Games. Apart from water polo, the last of such golds came from dragonboat racing and women's hockey at the 1993 Games on home soil.

Still, the national floorballers' sights are fixed on a different, loftier goal - the world championships.

Said Syafizah: "The SEA Games are a stepping stone for us. The ultimate aim is always the world championships.

"It will be good exposure for the team, which is now made up of a lot of younger players below 25 who will be getting international exposure for the first time."

Added women's team coach Jaime Cheong: "Playing on home soil is important, it is for pride and there will still be the pressure of winning medals on our shoulders."

maychen@sph.com.sg

This article was published on April 6 in The Straits Times.

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