First, before you ask, it’s pronounced ‘chuke-ball’. The spelling is nearly as random as the sport itself, which was conceived back in the ’70s by Swiss biologist Herman Brandt. Herman didn’t like the fact that
sport seemed to be all about winning and aggression, so he set about inventing a sport that focused more on teamwork, unity and harmony,rather than bragging rights once you’ve trounced the opposition (perhaps this is why academics rarely make good sportsmen).
In this respect, tchoukball has much the same philosophy as Ultimate Frisbee, but was originally played by the straight-laced Swiss rather than the peace-loving layabouts of San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park. Of course, things have changed and tchoukball has, somewhat miraculously, made its way to the UAE courtesy of Brazilian Julio Calegari. Hailing from São Paulo, the 33-year-old shunned the national obsession with football in favour of tchoukball.
‘I was in the first groups playing this sport in Brazil,’ he says, wistfully. In 1999 Julio was one of founders of the Brazilian National Tchoukball Association, and in 2000 he took part in the first tchoukball world championships in Geneva.
Since then there have been international tchoukball tournaments in 2002 and 2005. In 2007, Julio and his Brazilian brethren took part in a tchoukball beach tournament, a variation of the sport that he brought to the sandy shores of Dubai in 2006.
So what exactly is tchoukball?
Julio explains that the sport is a mix of handball and volleyball, and the scoring system is taken from squash: players must bounce the ball on an upright, trampoline-like net; the ball must then bounce outside the goal
area without being caught by the defending team. Tchoukball is a nine-a-side, non-contact game where players can carry the ball for no longer than three seconds and/or three steps. For this reason, Julio believes that tchoukball is the quintessential team sport, because players don’t have long enough to hog the ball.
The game, according to Julio, is a great form of fitness – ‘it involves a lot of explosive strength and speed’ – and is very accessible to beginners (which is just as well, considering so few people are familiar with it). ‘The rules are simple and there’s no physical contact,’ explains the Brazilian. ‘Kids and adults can play, so it’s very easy for anyone to just join in and get involved.’
Perhaps this is the reason that the UAE has embraced the game so quickly. With the help of UAE physical education inspectors Mohamed Zaghdoud and Nabiha Houas, Julio received the support of the UAE Ministry of Education and there are now 10 schools playing tchoukball in the emirates. The prevalence of tchoukball in schools will be a boost for the UAE national team, who recently arrived back from a tour of India having won every game. The team, which is ranked a respectable 16th in the world, is tentatively set to take on the Pakistani national team here in the UAE, though at time of writing the visitors are said to be having trouble securing their UAE visas. Whether the Pakistani team does manage to visit or not, there’s ample opportunity to try your hand at tchoukball here in Dubai. Julio holds monthly tchoukball beach sessions that are open to anyone.
Is tchoukball the sport of the future?
Julio laughs. ‘I don’t think so. It’s rarely anyone’s main sport – rather something that people play in addition to another sport. I play volleyball and tchoukball and we have rugby players who come – just as an alternative to contact sport.’ Still, Julio can’t stress enough how fun a game of tchoukball on the beach can be, which is why we’ll be heading down to try this new sport for the New Year.
For more details about tchoukball and where you can play it, call Julio on 050 260 6370. Information about tchoukball in the UAE can be found at www.uaetchoukball.blogspot.com, and you can learn more about the sport at www.tchoukball.org.