Rugby in the deep end

Rugby in the deep end
A player attempts to block an opponent from passing the rubber ball, which is negatively bouyant and filled with salt water, during a training session. On land, the ball weighs about 2.5kg.

Few Singaporeans have heard of underwater rugby, introduced to Singapore just over half a year ago.

Often described as a 3D sport, this aquatic form of rugby allows players to move above or below another, playing in almost any direction.

The sport originated in Germany in the 1960s and is recognised by the Confederation Mondiale des Activites Subaquatiques, the international federation for underwater sports.

Players - often of both sexes - score by placing or shooting the ball into their opponents' goal.

Each goal resembles a bucket-cage fixed down to a metal sheet, which keeps it upright amid player tussles.

The ball is filled with salt water and sinks underwater. This is a contact sport, where players may wrestle the ball from each other, but strangling opponents or tampering with their gear is against the rules.

Much of the rugby-like action takes place near the bottom of the pool, requiring players to swim back up to the surface to replenish their air supply.

"This sport challenges the limitations of the human body physically - you will need to swim - but it's also very mental," said Khee Chia How, who first picked up the sport in 2008 at the University of New South Wales, Australia (UNSW). The 30-year-old organised Singapore's first underwater rugby session in May last year, booking a 4.5m-deep diving pool every Saturday morning at the Queenstown Swimming Complex.

Khee aims to develop the sport recreationally, with each session focusing on matches rather than training, for now.

Having played for the UNSW team, and later for the renowned Norwegian team Akkaren, he hopes to bring that competitive aspect to the sport in Singapore eventually. He describes Singapore as a good location to serve as a link between the two hemispheres - including countries in Europe, Scandinavia, Australia and New Zealand - in international underwater rugby networks. He says the international community is close.

He has confidence in the development of the current squad, which has doubled in strength from the 10-12 players when it first started. Last September, the club was officially called the First Asian Team Underwater Rugby (Singapore) after it registered with the Registry of Societies.

For now, the team is training for its first tournament, the Pan Pacific Cup, which will be held in Brisbane in April. Khee and his team have big dreams. After all, this is a sport which you play, and not just watch, with bated breath.

mcheong@sph.com.sg


This article was first published on Jan 3, 2015.
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