It all started with the Premier Hockey League about seven years ago, a concept which gave a new dimension to the sport, thanks to the initiative of ESPN-Star Sports television network. Though it has been subsequently shelved for different reasons despite being immensely popular for giving the hockey fans a rare treat of players from across the world turning up for the teams like Hyderabad Sultans, Sher-e-Jalandhar. It has also been the trend-setter for other disciplines like cricket first (ICL and then IPL) and now for volleyball (Indian Volleyball League) and kabaddi (Kabaddi Premier League).
“We are determined to give a new face to the sport in India,” says K. Jagadishwar Yadav, secretary of Amateur Kabaddi Federation of India, at the launch of the PKL. “Honestly, this PKL was never dreamt of a few years ago. But, now thanks to the efforts of all like-minded officials including the President of AKFI, J.S. Gehlot, and Chairman of KP Consultancy Pvt Ltd, this has become a reality,” says Hyderabad-based Jagadishwar Yadav.
A majority of the sports fraternity might have an indifferent attitude towards kabaddi, overlooking the fact that it fetched India it's only gold in the 1990 Beijing Asian Games. Kabaddi also remains India's biggest hope in Asian Games as the country won seven Asiad gold and two World Cup gold. A record which not many other discipline can boast of.
“This is the reason, we want to make this sport even more popular and attract a new fan base,” says Yadav.
When Vijayawada hosts the inaugural KPL from June 8 to 16, kabaddi, now played across 31 countries, should give a new direction and fresh hope to the players also.
“We are making a conscious effort to ensure that both the national and international players in all the franchisees get Rs. 20 lakhs at the end of it,” reminds KP Rao, CEO of the consultancy which is taking care of the raising funds for this dream project of AKFI. “Unlike, in IPL (cricket), we don't want to discriminate between the foreign and domestic players. And, if everything goes well, we are planning many more events which should also help kabaddi players move around with a sense of pride and satisfaction,” he says.
Once KPL manages to tap into the sponsors and crowd support, the focus will shift to women's league also, says J.S. Gehlot, president of AKFI. “The ultimate dream is to see that kabaddi is introduced in Olympics at least by 2020 and every effort including this KPL is part of the bigger plan,” the AKFI chief pointed out.