Love them or hate them, but all big sports leagues have one thing in common. They make the road to a major international tournament more exciting and intriguing.
Cricket and football fans over the world have been spoilt for choice with the number of leagues that portray the superiority of these two sports. Now, something similar has transpired for kabaddi lovers. For in the Star Sports Pro Kabaddi, they have found a platform that has made this forgotten sport an instantaneous hit. So, what follows?
Like cricket and football, kabaddi fans will now get a taste of international kabaddi at the 2016 Kabaddi World Cup, which will be held in Ahmedabad, Gujarat from October 7-22. Like the league, Star Sports will be the official broadcaster and all the matches will be telecast on the Star Sports network and its Hotstar app.
The Indian national kabaddi team will face off against 11 other nations, which includes USA, UK, Australia, Iran, Poland, Thailand, Bangladesh, South Korea, Japan, Argentina and Kenya. With participation from all five Olympic geographies, the world cup perhaps has all the ingredients to be an entertaining sporting extravaganza.
The teams have been divided into two pools of six teams each and will play in a fortnight-long tournament that will follow a round-robin format. Once the group stages are concluded, the top two teams from each pool will go to the semi-finals. The final is scheduled for October 22 and all the matches will be held in a state-of-the-art stadium in Ahmedabad.
The excitement was evident at a recent event where the tournament’s logo was unveiled by Vijay Goel, minister of youth affairs and sports and JS Gehlot, president, International Kabaddi Federation. “Every successful global sport has a marquee international event. We bought kabaddi to the Asia level through the Asian Games. But our ultimate aim is to take the sport to an Olympic level and the world cup will be an important stepping stone towards that aim,” said Gehlot.
In pure sporting terms—and if records are anything to go by—the Indian team goes into the tournament as the favourites. The team has won all the previous seven editions of the world cup. And, ever since the sport was introduced at the 1990 Asian Games in Beijing, India has bagged nine gold medals in kabaddi at the Asian Games.
One player who seems to be oozing confidence is Anup Kumar, who plays for the Mumbai franchise in the Pro Kabaddi League. “I think the entire team is fit. We are also good technically and will be entering the tournament with some of the best players in the sport. Personally, I am looking forward to playing Iran because they gave us tough competition in the last (2014) Asian Games final. But in our home-ground, we will only be aiming for a win,” said Kumar. India starts its world cup campaign against South Korea on October 7.
The league, in a way, has provided a much-needed boost to the sport since it has rewarded the performance of players from around the world. This inspired the players to play harder. So, competition from the likes of Iran and South Korea is expected to be immense. “Iran are running India very close. Some of the best performances in the Pro Kabaddi league has been from the Iranians. They were a whisker away from winning the gold at the Incheon Asian Games. South Korea, too, are also rapidly rising in standard,” said sports expert Charu Sharma, who is also the managing director of Mashal Sports, an inclusive sports management company and a promoter of the Pro Kabaddi league.