Baby steps to boost walking football

A training session of walking football at Shah Alam National Sports Complex (Panasonic Stadium).

ENJOYING a good kickabout is nowadays not exclusive to the young and fit, who can sprint the length of a football pitch in seconds, and twist and turn, fighting for the ball with ease.

Those in their later years or with reduced mobility can still partake in their favourite sport, thanks to walking football.

As it says on the tin, it’s all about walking: players are not allowed to run, and one foot must be in contact with the ground at all times.

Originating from the United Kingdom to allow football to be played safely among older age groups, the sport has taken root in a number of countries.

It has now come to our shores, with the Walking Football Tournament taking place today and tomorrow at Universiti Malaya (UM), Kuala Lumpur.

The tournament for those aged 51 to 65 includes a three-month training stint as part of the programme, according to the UM webpage.

“Promoting a healthy lifestyle in the growing older population of Malaysia, where non-communicable diseases are on the rise, is vital.

“To achieve this, we’re introducing a convenient and enjoyable form of physical activity: walking football.

“Our goal is for walking football to become the preferred sport for the elderly in our community, enabling increased physical activity, improved fitness and body composition, enhanced mental well-being and greater social interaction among retirees,” it states.

For Noor Arjuna Abdul Ghani, 56, a recent health scare due to hypertension brought a sudden halt to his weekly football games.

“I felt very depressed as I had been active all my life and I could not play football,” said the businessman and innovator, who is also an ex-backup player for Kuala Lumpur City FC.

“The heart specialist I met said the only thing that kept me alive was a healthy heart from all the years of sports.

“He said I should continue being active, but the only thing I could do was walking football,” Noor Arjuna said when met at a walking football training session in Shah Alam.

He has found it helpful for getting back to fitness, especially as the Walking Football Tournament programme included health tests in the months leading up to the event.

“In the three months since the health scare, I have been able to play football again, and up to 30 minutes at a time.”

It is a far cry from when Noor Arjuna could play two full-field football matches a day, but the grandfather of two sees walking football as a great sport for the older generation.

“It’s good for otai football players who can no longer participate in the normal game, because they still have skills but cannot run that much.

“Walking football forces a more-thought-out plan, less aggressive play and strategic passing,” said Noor Arjuna, who plays as striker for his team Rope Walk FC.

Tournament committee member Wan Ikram Shah, Sports Medicine officer at University Malaya Medical Centre (UMMC), hoped the pioneer event would generate more interest for its health benefits.

As part of the team monitoring health metrics, he said the three-month training period had shown some benefits to participants, with a majority of them recording weight loss.

Further data will be analysed after the tournament, including metrics such as fat percentages, muscle mass, body mass index and heart rates.

The game’s rules including no contact, no running and not playing the ball higher than head height also meant there was less risk of injury, Wan Ikram said.

If successful, there is also the ambition of opening up the tournament to teams from around the country.

“When we started the programme, we had interest from other states,” Wan said.

“If this event is a success, we may have a larger tournament in the future and share the message that walking football is good for one’s health, especially among the older generation.”

The tournament, organised by UM and Petaling Jaya City Council with support from UMMC, will feature group matches of 10-minute halves.

This will be staged today, with the knock-out stages of 15-minute halves tomorrow.

The matches will kick off at 8.30am at Padang C, right next to the UM Varsity Green.

For details, visit social media under @M_walkingfootball.

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