Kabbadi: A South Asian recipe for success

Pakistan recently beat India in the kabbadi World Cup final. A spectacle that was viewed by over 2 million people on YouTube and millions more on TV.

What is kabbadi though? Well, for starters, it’s a game similar to tag but has been played for generations in the Indian subcontinent!

The sport was influenced by other indigenous or simpler games, like tag, such as pakram pakrai, but eventually, it developed into the game of Kabbadi, a muscled, upsized version of the game.

Today, the Kabbadi World Cup is contested by 12 teams around the world. Pakistan clinched the recent edition of tournament after they triumphed over their arch-rivals, India, winning 43 - 41. It was a full house at the Punjab Stadium in Lahore, signalling bigger things to come for the sport.

The rules of Kabbadi are a bit tricky to explain, especially if you do not watch the sport.

There are two teams comprising of seven players each and a single player from the attacking team known as a raider raids the opponents half.

Iranian team, Kabbadi world cup against Korea
CC by Amir Hosseini (Fars News)

When the raider is in the other half, he must tag as many of the seven players as possible and run back to his teams half without getting caught.

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Throughout the raid, the attacking player has to repeat the words “kabaddi, kabaddi, kabaddi…”. The team that can tag the most people across two halves of 20 minute each, wins.

Kabbadi was a training regime used to improve the stamina and reflexes of fighters but evolved into a game full of strategy, tactics and game plans.

So why has Kabbadi thrived in the subcontinent? It has always been an accessible sport, as there is no special equipment or field required. This means it was easy to play, particularly, in rural regions such as Punjab in India and Pakistan.

It also helped narrow the social stratification within feudal societies. In turn, enabling everyone to come together and play, irrespective of their social, religious or cultural background.

Men play kabbadi in Lahore

The first step towards internationalisation of Kabbadi was in 1936, at the Berlin Olympics, where it was showcased. The international movement truly began in 1990 through the Asian Games in Beijing.

India has gone onto win every gold medal ever since. And despite South Asian dominance and the slow growth in foreign territories, kabbadi has managed to segway into 40 countries.

The International Kabbadi Federation (IKF) has inducted 31 member countries. Kabaddi is definitely taking strides in its birthland, India, rising to become the 2nd most popular sport, after cricket.

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The Pro Kabbadi finalist winners team
CC by Kabaddi24x7

The Pro Kabaddi League (PKL) launched in 2014. It is often attributed to the game’s resurgence in the last 5 years.

Bollywood actors have become sponsors of the league, endorsed and bought teams and the sport has been the focus of many films. Pakistan has also jumped on the ship with the Pakistan Super Kabbadi League. The recent investment of $43 million by a Chinese Smartphone company is a huge positive.

The players are also beginning to enjoy decent salaries and have a chance at a lucrative career that so far only cricketers could imagine.

In the last decade or so, the game has gained following in countries such as Iran and even reached the shores of Australia. The sport is definitely here to stay but the takeaway question is how far will it go?

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