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June 14, 2011

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Team sport with a gentler touch

IF playing rugby seems too physically challenging for you, there is a softer option. Nie Xin learns more about touch football and its presence in the city.

Jeremy Burks from the United Kingdom has been in Shanghai for more than one year. On a Saturday afternoon earlier this month, he played in a mini touch football tournament at the Dulwich Soccer Field in Pudong New Area, with his teammates from Shanghai Touch Football Club.

In spite of the slight rain, up to 20 players - mostly expatriates in Shanghai, both male and female - took part, including Burks' son of around 20 years old.

Burks took part not only as a player but also the referee in the second part of the tournament.

Touch football, more commonly known as touch, is a non-contact sport that originated as a summer training exercise for Rugby League players in Australia in the late 1960s.

It was originally a warm-up activity prior to training - but participants and interest grew rapidly and a new sport was created.

The aim of the game is to score more touchdowns than your opposition team by running, passing and using evasion skills without being "touched" while in possession of the ball. Unlike rugby, the players simply have to touch their opponents rather than physically tackle them.

As an instant success that spread across the world, touch is now a unique independent sport with its own rules, referees, international competition and worldwide administration.

As an example of its popularity and acceptance in Australia, touch is the most popular team sport played by more children in both primary and secondary schools than any other sport.

"It's now played in more than 60 countries and growing, getting more and more popular in Asian countries like Singapore, Japan and South Korea," says Garry Stout, the president of Shanghai Touch.

Touch was first played in Shanghai in the mid-1990s, with some teams playing casual local games, touring occasionally and playing visiting teams through the early 2000s.

Shanghai Touch is now the only international touch football club in Shanghai.

"Organized touch football in Shanghai began in 2004, and since then we have hosted seven international tournaments, with visiting teams from all around Asia and as far away as New Zealand competing. Several of those tournaments had more than 360 registered competitors," says David Benham, the bassist in God of Thunder, an expat rock band in Shanghai.

Over past seasons, they have conducted spring and autumn leagues with regular weekend competitions for as many as eight teams in their regular Saturday sessions. These have included teams representing local university alumni associations, plus national groupings among Japanese, French and New Zealand expats, along with teams simply consisting of friends among the playing population.

The group plays the sport almost year-round in Shanghai. They currently have a regular session at the Dulwich Soccer Field in Jinqiao, Pudong, most Saturday afternoons (1pm-3pm) and a Monday night session (8pm-10pm) was established recently at Luwan Gymnasium in Puxi.

"We have also been playing mid-week casual matches and conducting training in Puxi for the past seven years," adds Stout.

They also play occasional away tournaments, and just had a team travel down to Singapore last week. That won the mixed division of the Asia Champs.

In late October, they will be holding their 8th Annual Shanghai International Touch Tournament.

"Touch is more acceptable, doesn't need equipment and it's sociable and friendly," says Benham. "The key to playing the game well is thinking logically and using physical strength."

Seen as a new "Run, Catch & Pass" community-based sports activity, touch is essentially a "non-contact" sport and it is seen as far safer than the traditional brands of full-contact sports.

This is a major consideration for parents of young players, for many females and for a growing number of men, especially those past their peak of physical fitness.

Kate Alback, a young teacher from the UK working at the British International School, has been living in Shanghai for six years. She has played in the club for five years. "There are many female players in the club, playing the game together with the male players," she says. "New players are always welcome so check out when the next games are being played and then come join us."

They also included a section for juniors at their last tournament for which they had good turn out from the Shanghai international schools.

French expatriate Laurent Villeneur also played in the mini tournament, bringing his wife and young daughter along to watch. He came to Shanghai only three months ago with his family, due to his wife's work.

"I played a lot in the clubs of this kind in Paris. Now I am happy to find this club in Shanghai, playingtouch and meeting new friends," says Villeneur.


E-mail: Two other expat sports clubs in Shanghai

Shanghai ReUnited Football Club

Shanghai ReUnited Football Club is the most internationally diverse football club in Shanghai, with more than 100 members from more than 30 countries.

They train regularly every week and play in league games.

The club's history can be traced back to 1993 when players from Russian-speaking countries met casually for football games. When the Shanghai International Football League (SIFL) was founded in 1995 they formed Shanghai United, which later changed to Beaver United.

In 2006, a second team Shanghai ReUnited was spun-off from Beaver United. Now ReUnited and Beaver United both play in the Premier League of the SIFL while ReUnited's spin-off 3United competes in the second division of the SIFL.

Sebastian Becker from Germany, the current manager of ReUnited, was recently selected as SIFL coach of the year.

The club welcomes players of all ages and gender as long as they share a love and passion for football.



Shanghai Chess Club

Founded in 2007, Shanghai Chess Club holds regular activities every Sunday afternoon from 4pm. The club members, around 15 people each time due to their flexible schedule, play at Oscar's Pub on Fuxing Road.

There are no club or entrance fees and Oscar's provides the club with an all-day happy hour (half-price drinks).

There are now around 50 regular members in the club, some of whom also teach chess. The club also counts international masters among their regulars, such as Torben Sorensen from Denmark.

A new branch of the club was opened this February in Lujiazui in Pudong. They play every Thursday from 6pm at O'Yamee Café on Century Avenue.


E-mail: (James Waldron, the club's director)


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