Kabaddi striving for a global audience

The 900-year-old sport from India vies for global reach as World Kabaddi League takes off in London with great hopes.


    O2 Arena, London - Commissioner of the World Kabaddi League seems quite ambitious - “we can be bigger than the IPL,” he says – as the former Indian hockey star affirms his faith in the sport.

    “The IPL is only in India but we are global,” Pargat Singh told Al Jazeera at the famous O2 arena in Greenwich, a London 2012 Olympic venue, where an Indian sport that is 900 years old has started its bid to reach out and grab a new global audience.

    “But to take ourselves to the next level, we need to improve further. We’re trying to give the sport a proper structure.”

    This mix of tag, wrestling and rugby without a ball attained cult status in Britain during the 1990s when Channel 4 took the left-field decision to broadcast it weekly.

    Points are scored by sending a "raider" to the other's teams territory, he needs to tag any one of the four "stoppers" of the opposing team before returning "home" within a 30 second time frame. The chant of “kabaddi, kabaddi” became familiar in the UK, as it continues to be across large parts of India.

    But to take ourselves to the next level, we need to improve further. We’re trying to give the sport a proper structure

    Pargat Singh, Commissioner, World Kabaddi League

    The mainly Punjabi audience arriving for the inaugural event in London said it felt like their national sport before confirming that there will be a willing audience when the event reaches Birmingham, Canada, the US and Dubai in the coming weeks.

    “I love to see kabaddi in England because this is a village game going all over the world now,” said a 21-year-old arriving at the venue. “If it's well organised - the way it is right now - and the top celebrities take part in it while players are given priority, it could be a big success in not just Indian communities but everywhere.”

    This initiative also meets the approval of Ajit Singh Khaira, a trailblazer for kabaddi who developed the game to England in the late 1970s and 80s.

    “We played it for free,” Khaira said. “The players are paid now, everything is more professional.”

    Bollywood touch

    And this event in London is a world away from the “kabaddi” chants in a north Indian village. Just like the IPL music is blasted out between overs and wickets, there are dancers and Bollywood-star team owners.

    One of them is Akshay Kumar who performed at this inaugural event and he has every reason to have an extra spring in his step - Kumar’s Khalsa Warriors had beaten Yo Yo Honey Singh’s team 79-57. The losing team, like most in the league, is comprised mainly of Punjab players from India.

    To the trained eye,  the standard was surprisingly good for a new league and a new event.

    However, not everything glittered. The crowd was disappointing - a couple of hundred at the most - and the marketing left a lot to be desired. But these are teething problems. Ultimately if people want to watch kabaddi, this will be a successful league.

    To my disappointment, the “kabaddi, kabaddi” chants are gone.

    “People started cheating, they chanted “kabaddi, kabaddi” but officials couldn’t tell whether they were   cheating or had taken another breath so they changed the rules changed to 30 seconds to get in and out,” said a spectator. “The chant has gone. “

    It’s hugely disappointing not to hear the chant. And I love the thought of a sport where you have to prove you are not cheating by chanting “kabaddi”.

    But us UK “cult” Kabaddi fans will have to accept: It’s a new era for India’s grand old village sport.

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera


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