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Kabaddi Pro League

 (Photo Credit: Pro Kabaddi League)

Can't say you see kids playing 'Kabaddi' on the streets in India. No, Cricket holds that honor, being the nation's favorite sport, a gift given by the British Imperial rule, much like the tea we love so much. However, Kabaddi is a sport that originated in India in ancient times, specifically in Punjab, where it was played in the muddy streets or 'aakharas' ( make-shift wrestler's rink). This contact sport is akin to wrestling in terms of skills used and is played like a sport where there are two teams of seven players each on a field with two halves, one for each team. Each team takes turn in sending out a 'raider' onto the opponent's half whose goal it is to tag as many players of the opposing team as possible before returning to his own side without getting 'caught' by the other team. To make it a little more complicated, 'it' (as in the person who is 'it') has to repeatedly chant 'kabaddi, kabaddi, kabaddi' so as to prove that he achieved his task while holding his breath the entire time. Much like the football sport here in America, the opposing team's objective is to stop him by all means.

India is all out to revive the interest in Kabaddi. Last month A Pro Kabaddi League was launched complete with celebrities, corporate sponsors and a full-on coverage by the media. A mega event was hosted by the Bachchans on the occasion as Abhishek Bachchan owns a pro league team too. Various big shots from the Indian film industry had showed up to support Abhishek on his venture including Amitabh, Aaishwariya, Shah Rukh Khan, Aamir Khan, Akshay Kumar, etc- most of them sporting the league t-shirts. The inspiration for the league comes from IPL Cricket (Indian Premier League), cricket's cash-rich Twenty20 tournament although the money involved is not even close, it is said. According to the official website of ProKabaddi, "Pro Kabaddi, a first significant initiative of Mashal Sports, takes our truly indigenous sport of Kabaddi to levels of new professionalism, which will benefit all stakeholders involved in the ecosystem of the game, Kabaddi, most of all, the players themselves, who will become the new role models for the youth of India. This bold step will highlight the new, modern, international and competitive face of Kabaddi throughout the length and breadth of the country, and beyond. Pro Kabaddi is an eight-city league with games to be played on a caravan format with each team playing each other twice in July and August, 2014. In a significant value addition to Kabaddi, these games will be carried live on prime time TV by the international broadcaster, Star Sports for millions to view across India and the world. This unique effort has the formal backing by the International Kabaddi Federation (IKF), the Asian Kabaddi Federation (AKF) & the Amateur Kabaddi Federation of India (AKFI), who will be closely associated with the organization and delivery of this event." 

Cricket is England's gift to India, but not many know that India has 'gifted' Kabaddi to England. According to a report in England's Telegraph, 'the first-ever Kabaddi matches have been organised in the country by the World Kabaddi League (WKL), starting this month at the 02 Arena in London. The games are expected to attract tens of thousands of spectators. Promoted with slogans such as “Survival of the Fittest” and “No Armour to Hide Behind”, there’s no question that the WKL is a noisy juggernaut of an event, which, in the coming months, will move to Birmingham and further afield: Dubai, the USA and Canada. The UK operation is masterminded by the English Kabaddi Federation. The general secretary is Surinder Singh Manak, who strives to attract the biggest, burliest and most bankable players on the circuit to the UK. The report provides further details about Kabaddi in Britain. Apparently there was a brief attempt to popularise it in the Nineties there, when a TV series about it ran on Channel Four. It is still played by the Army – for fitness and to attract soldiers from Asian communities.

It truly is heart warming to see this renewed interest in a sport that originated from the villages of India. Nothing will bring more joy to Indians and those who have their roots in India to see Kabaddi attain a place of its own in the world of sports. 

If you're interested in following the matches of the on-going Pro Kabaddi League, so far, the U Mumba team, owned by Ronnie Screwala of UTV, is leading followed by the Jaipur Pink Panther, owned by Abhishek Bachchan. 

We say, may the best team win, but most importantly, may Kabaddi win!

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