No longer a small-town sport: kabaddi raids schools and homes in Mumbai

Mumbai: Children scream in delight from the stands at the National Sports Club Of India (NSCI) every time kabaddi star Kashiling Adake crosses over for a raid into rival territory. The lanky attacker leaps out of range as rival tacklers close in. Away from the action, he is surrounded by his young fans requesting a selfie.

After chanting his name during the match, Adake’s fans try to imitate his darting moves the next day, playing the touch-tackle-tumble sport in their building lobby, parking lot or school compound during breaks. Shoes and sandals placed closely together form the centre line on these improvised kabaddi pitches.

With Adake’s team, the Pro Kabbadi franchise U Mumba, hitting all the right notes in the Mumbai leg of the league’s fifth season, the sport has earned several new passionate followers among children in the city.

Trying to understand this growing fascination with the game, U Mumba CEO Supratik Sen says, “Simplicity of the sport has a huge impact. People understand kabaddi, my mother and grandmother understand it. We have played it at some time in our childhood. Rules are being understood better because it is shown on television. When Pro Kabaddi started (in 2014), in places like Bandra where I stay, children were not playing the game. Now, when I step out of the lift, kids can be seen tumbling over each other.”

Besides, he says, kabaddi is one of the most accessible sports, needing just one open patch of space. “Two or three cars cleared in a parking lot, and a play area is ready,” he says.

Kids seem to lap up the moves and counter moves unfolding on the brightly coloured mat in noisy indoor stadiums as part of a 40-minute package in the Pro Kabaddi live telecast. Apart from the many Indian internationals, they have started to adore the athletic raiders and brave tacklers from countries like Iran and South Korea.

The live games at NSCI, too, attract children and elders. They chant names of U Mumba players as well as the more flamboyant names of players in other sides — all familiar to them due to prime-time television exposure.

School outreach

The league, too, is trying its best to foster this fan following.

Adake, one of India’s top raiders, and team mate Nitin Madane had earlier visited G.D. Somani Memorial School to interact with school players and share some tips. Other Indian medal winners are expected to make similar appearances in other cities when the kabaddi caravan arrives for week-long matches featuring the professionals.

In another such initiative, eight school teams took part in the invitation tournament KBD Juniors held at NSCI. The team from Dr. Babasaheb Ambedkar Municipal School won, followed by Dhirubhai Ambani International School in second place. The latter represents recent converts to a sport that continues to be played in villages and towns across the country.

Cathedral & John Connon School and Campion School qualified for the KBD Juniors Mumbai semi-finals. St Peter’s School, Jamnabai Narsee School, Aditya Birla World Academy and G.D. Somani Memorial School were the other invitees.

It’s not just the children who are fascinated by the sport. Parents also seem to be swept away by its popularity, often overlooking the dangers of children engaging in a body-contact sport without the necessary physical preparation.

Sen explains the draw for parents. “When you read about a kabaddi player earning between ₹70 lakh to a crore, parents are already convinced that if their children can play the sport for seven to 10 years, they can make enough money and then fall back on Plan B, which is to turn professional. If the children can complete their education properly, this sport is like any other. At 18, which profession in Mumbai offers ₹5 lakh to start off? Pro kabaddi players can earn ₹30 lakh and can go up to a crore in five seasons.”

Future talent

For U Mumba, the road ahead to increase match audience and spot talent is clear. “We have held two tournaments this season for college students, called Future Stars. Once we have a set-up, these can be held back to back, for schools, high schools, junior colleges and degree colleges. It is the perfect way to expand the catchment area for the entire Mumbai belt, and also include youth coming in from districts.”

The league has already thrown the spotlight from small towns and humble backgrounds.

Rishank Devadiga from Vakola, who starred for U Mumba in the first four seasons and was picked up by the UP Yoddhas at the auction, worked in the hotel industry before joining the league. Adake was a farmhand in Sangli. Madane is from Islampur and team mate Shrikant Jadhav hails from Kolhapur.

While fans and team mates feel Rishank’s absence, the other three have played a role to take U Mumba in the top four in the ongoing group stage.

Sen also said that the franchise working on creating more spaces for children to play kabaddi. “Talks are on with people like Aditya Thackeray (Mumbai District Football Association president) to secure space. They have a massive facility at Andheri (Mumbai Football Arena). Maybe seven to 10 kabaddi courts can be set up for a week-long tournament under floodlights. From there, special talent can be picked and trained for two to three years, and then drafted into the Mumbai squad.”

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Printable version | Jul 30, 2021 11:01:26 AM |

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