‘Kung Fu soccer’: Australia’s only caneball competition

PHOTO: Caneball is growing in Australia thanks in part to refugees from Southeast Asia. (ABC News: Nick Haggarty)

It’s a sport that dates back more than 1,500 years, and is hugely popular throughout much of South-East Asia — yet most people in Australia would have never heard of caneball.

Often consisting of acrobatic feats the sport, known as Chinlone in its origin country Myanmar, sees players use only their feet to pass a rattan ball back and forth over a net.

The sport is slowly growing in popularity in Australia, as migrant and refugee communities import the game — and its only Australian competition arrived in Canberra this weekend.

Featuring teams from Thailand, New Zealand, and all across Australia, many local teams featured people from refugee backgrounds.

Daniel Thanya, who moved to Australia after spending more than a decade in a refugee camp on the Thailand-Myanmar border, said the sport was a big part of his life.

“No basketball, no footy, so soccer field — so this was the only sport we played in the camp.

“So even though we came to Australia, we still like to play this sport — it’s still my favourite sport.”

A player kicks a ball.
PHOTO: The sport’s rules fall somewhere between soccer and volleyball. (ABC News: Nick Haggarty)

Mr Thanya said caneball was a way for his community to stay connected, despite now living in different cities across Australia.

“It is a good way of meeting and socialising with them, so in the future we have better connections,” he said.

Organiser Moo K’Lue ‘Eagle’ Digay said the game was a test of skill, with rules that fell somewhere between soccer and volleyball.

A player eyes a ball over his head.
PHOTO: The national championship is now in its fifth year. (ABC News: Nick Haggarty)

“Sometimes people call it sky soccer,” he said.

Mr Digay said the sport was seeing burgeoning women’s teams in Australia — breaking down traditional barriers.

“A few parents stop because when they come from a refugee background they really stick with tradition … ‘women are not allowed to do this, women are not allowed to do that’,” he said.

“But now we try to encourage a lot of young girls to participate in this area.”

A player strikes a ball with his foot.
PHOTO: Organisers hope the sport will continue to grow. (ABC News: Nick Haggarty)

He said he hoped the growing sport would better the lives of refugee communities in Australia.

“Sport can stop drugs, sport can stop drink, sport can stop violence,” he said.

“My aim here is to reconnect young people in every state.” – abc.net.au

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