Mad about dodgeball, small sport with big feats

If you’re undecided on a Malaysian sports team to root for, pick dodgeball. (MAD pic)

PETALING JAYA: The Malaysian men’s, women’s and mixed teams have taken the country to overall world No 1 in foam dodgeball, and solidified the power of the non-core sport.

In the latest combined world rankings based on accumulated points at international competitions, Malaysia is atop 80 countries, with Canada (second), Australia (third) and the US (fourth).

Three years ago, Malaysia was number eight in the classification. The men’s and women’s teams were then first and second in the foam category.

Without formal funding, dodgeball has given the nation, bowed by poor performances of popular sports, a reason to stand tall.

To be a supporter of Malaysia’s football, hockey and badminton teams in recent times is to be familiar with sorrow.

Malaysian Dodgeball Association (MAD) president, Radha Krishnan Nair, said: “It’s still early days for this small sport, with big feats.”

The biggest wins came from the men’s foam team, who grabbed the maiden Asian crown last November after becoming world champions in 2017, 2018 and 2022.

The reigning world champions in foam dodgeball with their teammates in other categories. (MAD pic)

Radha Krishnan aims to make dodgeball a source of pride for Malaysians, and wants the country to become the nerve centre of the sport in Asia.

“We are set to host the world championships in 2026, and this will have a great impact on the growth of dodgeball in Malaysia and Asia, “ Radha Krishnan said.

The sport is now played in 20 Asian countries actively and more nations are being persuaded to come aboard, said Radha Krishnan, who is also president of the Dodgeball Federation of Asia (DBFA).

He said MAD had assisted in the foundation of dodgeball in Singapore, Brunei, Indonesia, Thailand and Bangladesh.

It has also played an integral role in the development of coaching, which is grounded in sports science, thanks to the National Sports Institute.

MAD’s secretary Dasataran Subramaniam was in Hyderbad and Haryana in India two months ago to train 50 coaches and develop the game.

Dasataran, who is also the secretary of DBFA, will conduct coaching clinics in Thailand next week, followed by stints in Iran, Jordan and Pakistan.

Radha Krishnan said he managed to convince the World Dodgeball Federation (WDF) to do away with the qualifying rounds for the World Cup in Austria this year.

“Twelve Asian countries have already confirmed participation at the event, and I expect more to take part,” said Radha Krishnan, a vice-president of WDF.

No ducking growth of dodgeball

Many youths are encouraged to play dodgeball because it provides a good opportunity to represent Malaysia. (MAD pic)

Radha Krishnan said the sport has a big following among young Malaysians, with high participation rates in institutions of higher learning and clubs.

Presently, some 10,000 players duck, dive and dodge in the hope of becoming part of Malaysian dodgeball’s inspiring story.

He said 80% of them play foam dodgeball, while the rest play the fabric ball version of the sport, that is run by the Malaysia Dodgeball Federation (MDF).

MAD, formed 14 years ago, and five-year-old MDF are in negotiations to merge and become an affiliate of the Olympic Council of Malaysia.

Radha Krishnan said efforts were under way to identfy under-12 and under-15 students from 250 dodgeball-playing schools to represent the country at the world junior championships in Canada in October.

“When you have that many people gaining a sense of community, you can’t help but feel good about it.

“Many are encouraged to play the sport because it provides a good opportunity to represent Malaysia.

“They have dreams of dodgeball reaching the Olympic stage in 2036, and at the rate the other sports are going, we could be the first to bring a gold medal for Malaysia at the Olympics,” he said.

Asked about Malaysia’s prowess in the sport, Radha Krishnan said: “ We don’t have size, but agility and speed.”

Dodgeball is a fast-paced team game of physical skill and strategy in which players must dodge of catch balls thrown by the opposition, while attempting to strike their opponents in the same way.

The grassroots man

Radha Krishnan with MDF president Nozieka Faisal (left), and with MAD advisor Ramona Yuen (right), both of whom are working with him to take dodgeball to a higher level. (Radha Krishnan pic)

When Radha Krishnan stepped down as vice-president of Malaysian Hockey Federation in 2019, MAD founder Ramona Yuen approached him for help to grow dodgeball.

The entrepreneur didn’t know anything about dodgeball, but he was well known for growing sports, like archery and lawn bowls, and outdoor pursuits.

He was elected MAD president when there were only two state associations. Today, all 13 states and the three federal territories are active members.

Radha Krishnan didn’t have to take it from scratch because under Ramona’s leadership, the game was already being played in private universities and clubs in Selangor and Kuala Lumpur.

He however had to settle MAD’s debts of RM100,000 with his own money to put it in a healthy financial position before creating a strategy to develop the sport.

To get recognition and acceptance, MAD had to make sure they had sound development programmes and good players, with international events to boot.

A world record for dodgeball was set at the Asia-Pacific inivitational last June in Shah Alam, Selangor, with the participation of 1,100 players from 140 foreign and local clubs.

After the event, Radha Krishnan managed to get Singapore to host the first Asian dodgeball championships, where Malaysia won five gold medals. India is bidding for the second edition next year.

While preparations for international meets are ongoing, Radha Krishnan said the national leagues for states and 50 clubs will be a hunting ground for talent.

Asked about the minimal sponsorship the sport attracted, he said: “The youth and sports ministry doesn’t classify it as an important sport, and it does not get television coverage.”

MAD, he said, needed RM500,000 this year to run its programmes and to send teams abroad for competitions.

For the world championships in Edmonton, Canada, in 2022, 50% of the expenses were raised through crowdfunding organised by the players themselves, while Better Malaysia Foundation donated RM50,000.

Radha Krishnan urged the youth and sports ministry not to neglect smaller sports.

“Don’t treat us differently as we have brought glory to the nation, and are doing everything to make Malaysia proud in world sports,” he said.

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