Sport

Kabaddi goes pro

Changing the face of the game The Bengaluru Bulls all set to storm Mumbai Photo: K. Murali Kumar

Changing the face of the game The Bengaluru Bulls all set to storm Mumbai Photo: K. Murali Kumar  

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The pro Kabaddi league promises to bring more money and professionalism into the sport

Randhir Singh has spent the last 38 years playing or coaching kabaddi and he says he has never seen brighter days for the sport. “Even when we won the gold at the 1990 Asian Games, there wasn’t so much interest,” he smiles. “This is a golden day for kabaddi. From Kashmir to Kanyakumari, children in villages all over India will be attracted to kabaddi. Because what’s visible is what sells.” The source of Randhir’s unbridled optimism is the Pro Kabaddi League, scheduled to begin in Mumbai on July 26, from where the caravan will travel to the rest of the country. The tournament is well-marketed, the matches live on prime-time TV, the players well paid – a dozen of them earned Rs.10 lakh or more at the auction while all eight sides nearly exhausted their 60 lakh purse – and all of a sudden, the mood in the community is cheerful.

Randhir is coach of Bengaluru Bulls, the franchise representing Bangalore in the competition. His team has been training in a quiet club on the fringes of the city, eager to make a mark on the tournament. “We have a good team, good all-rounders, raiders and defenders,” Randhir says. “We will leave nothing to chance with our preparation. The owners have put us up in this wonderful place. Everything has been taken care of.”

Much rests on the shoulders of Ajay Thakur. The 28-year-old (was one of the biggest buys at the auction at Rs.12.20 lakh), is arguably the country’s best raider, and is described by one of his colleagues as ‘the Virat Kohli of Indian kabaddi’. “I was following the auction

online,” he admits with a grin. “I was very happy. My friends, colleagues, neighbours – quite a few people congratulated me.” Thakur has prominently featured in Star Sports’ promotional campaigns on TV. “It’s great that the League is televised, for it will bring us recognition. That will in turn encourage youngsters.”

Gurpreet Singh, another of the team’s senior members, concurs. “Earlier, even our own relatives didn’t know we were kabaddi players,” the policeman from Jalandhar says. “Now, we hope a lot more people will take notice.” Manjeet Chillar, an all-rounder believes the League will change the way kabaddi is perceived. “This is not the kabaddi people knew. All of a sudden, something big has happened. Tomorrow, if we are at the airport, we want people to be able to recognize us.”

The team’s only representative from Karnataka is Sunil Hanumanthappa, a 21-year-old raider from Tumkur. “I had applied along with four others to play in the league; I’m glad I was picked,” he says. “My mother sells flowers back home. I’m hoping to make it in kabaddi; I want to play for the senior Indian team.”

What the Pro Kabaddi League has done is raise the financial profile of the sport in one stroke, Randhir feels. “Of course the money is a big deal,” he says. “A young player from a village has not earned sums as big as 2 lakh or 2.5 lakh before. He has not been in such big hotels. Kabaddi was a poor sport earlier; we can’t have that anymore.”

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Printable version | Jan 28, 2020 10:56:12 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/sport/kabaddi-goes-pro/article6228502.ece

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