The ancient game of Kabaddi is enshrined permanently in the mind of every son of the soil Punjabi. In olden times, it used to be played on the dusty grounds of village common land. There used to be no hard and fast rules of the game. Sometimes the raiders indulged in tactical cheating during chanting of words “Kabaddi Kabaddi” or “Kaudi Kaudi”. In Punjabi style one raider was the attacker and one defender used to stop him. A deliberate touch by a raider targeting two attackers resulted in the point going to the defenders. In a reverse situation, if two stoppers tried to stop the raider one after the other or simultaneously, the point went to the raider.
Throwing the opponent, raider or defender, out of the ground resulted in a point. This has always been the game of strength, stamina, lung power and agility on the part of the raiders and the defenders. Prior to the independence of India, this game was quite popular in all the five administrative divisions of the Province of Punjab. It was more popular in Lahore and Jalandhar divisions and least popular in Ambala division.
But now it is popular all over the Indian Punjab and is played equally passionately across the Radcliffe Line in Pakistan’s Punjab. Needing just a pair of shorts and not even requiring formal shoes, this used to be and still is a very inexpensive game. But in order to stay physically fit, the player has to be given strength and stamina building diet and exercise. In olden times a lot of stress was laid on eating butter.
This culture still prevails, but now some of the athletes are eating a lot more diverse diet. During the nineteen fifties, a lot of Sikh youths settled in the United Kingdom. At about the same time and a decade and two later, Sikh Diaspora spread to Canada also. These expatriate Sikhs passionately love Kabaddi. When they visit their ancestral homes in India, they want to see Kabaddi being played in their respective villages. In order to see that they spend quite a considerable amount of money to arrange Kabaddi tournaments in their mostly non-descript villages. These impromptu tournaments have become very popular in the rural areas of the Punjab.
In the last two decades there were hundreds of such tournaments held in villages all across Punjab during the six month window from October to April. As the game is flourishing, rules are also getting defined and enforced meticulously. Now the raider has to return to the dividing line in half a minute. Crossing to one’s own side after touching a defender at any spot, other than the designated return line, results in a point being awarded to the defender.
Slapping the opponent, raider or the defender, results in point being awarded to the opponent. Sensing the enormous popularity of Kabaddi, the Punjab Government in India decided to embrace it. Deputy Chief Minister Sukhbir Singh Badal started the first edition of World Kabaddi Cup in 2010 in a grand style. The matches were held over several venues all over the Punjab. Kabaddi is now played regularly in Pakistan, the United Kingdom, Canada and the United States. India won the inaugural cup and a handsome amount of money.
The tournament was telecast by PTC TV channel all over India and in several countries, where PTC’s footprint exists. Last year (2011) saw more teams participating. Nice arrangements were made for board and lodging of the teams. Italy was a surprise entry into the semifinal. Several players from the United States and the Canadian teams were disqualified after being found positive in dope tests. In addition to men, several women’s teams were also invited to participate. This created gender equality in this hitherto rural sport. India had a decisive edge in women’s group. In the year 2012, the “Third World Cup Kabaddi Tournament” was held from the first to the 15th of December. The matches were spread in several locations all over the state.
A glittering several hours long opening ceremony was held in Bathinda on December 1st. The other venues included the holy and premier tourist city of Amritsar, Gurdaspur, Chohla Sahib (Tarntaran), Jalandhar, Hoshiarpur, Fazilka, Faridkot, Mansa, Sangrur, Ropar, Bathinda and Ludhiana. In the men’s category in addition to the host nation India, Argentina, the USA, Canada, England, Scotland, Norwey, Italy, Sierra Leone, Kenya, Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan, New Zealand and Srilanka accepted the invitation to participate.
In the women’s section, USA, Canada, England, Denmark, Malaysia, Turkmenistan and India participated. Nepal eventually failed to show up for the matches. The winning team in men’s section in 2012 was offered two crore of rupees and the runners-up team was offered a prize of one crore of rupees. The team finishing at number three was offered half a crore of rupees. These are indeed huge prizes unseen in the history of the game. There have been some problems in the organizational structure of the tournament.
The buildings of the stadiums are quite good, but the playing fields left much to be desired. Barring a couple of stadiums in Amritsar and Ludhiana, rest of the playing fields were devoid of a decent grass cover and the soil was very hard. Kabaddi players in the European and American countries are used to play on lush green grass turfs. When they are made to play on hard dry soil, their performance level suffers. That is one reason as to why the Canadian and the American teams could not perform to their capacity.
The teams that entered the semifinal included three teams from Asia. These are Iran, Pakistan and India. The fourth qualifier was the Canadian team. The team from the USA was narrowly beaten by Iran. Both India and Pakistan toyed with their semifinalist rivals. Indian crushed Iran and Pakistan mauled team Canada. In the women’s group also the competition in 2012 was of a much higher level. The Canadian and the Malaysian teams consisted of mostly players of Indian descent. The out of practice Canadian girls played poorly, but the hard working Malaysians covered themselves with glory and entered the final. Two European teams, the English and the Denmark teams also were impressive. Turkmenistan team was very good too. But the Indian players were outstanding.
This successfully conducted tournament is likely to boost the economy of Punjab. A lot of tourists have been visiting the state to watch this tournament. Some of the participating teams are staying behind in Punjab to play in several village level tournaments to be held in the months of December and January. The two African teams Kenya and Sierra Leone are also staying behind to get more match practice and to master the finer points of the game.
Both finals and the grand closing ceremony were held in the multipurpose Guru Nanak Stadium in Ludhiana on the night of Saturday December 15th. In the men’s final India crushed arch rivals Pakistan by 59 points to 22. Canada crushed Iran on December 13th in Jalandhar to win the third place and a prize of one hundred thousand dollars. In the final of women’s category on December 15th, in a one sided encounter India toyed with Malaysia.
The third place in women’s group was won by Denmark by defeating England on December 13th. This was a very closely contested match. The young school and college going girls from Denmark impressed everyone. The dazzling closing ceremony was dominated by the film industry of Bollywood. Katrina Kaif was the star of the night. Film and pop singers Diljit Singh and Sukhvinder Singh kept the jam-packed stadium entertained. Punjab’s most popular TV anchor Satinder Satti was the master of ceremony. In the end there was an impressive show of fireworks. At the end the flame was extinguished, with a promise to hold another edition in 2013. Katrina Kaif and troupe entertain at one of the venues