Finally, Campbell Brown seemed to have been headed towards the path of peace. No longer would the former Australian Rules Footballer need to wake up in the morning nursing a bruise from the previous night’s practice session or AFL match. Instead he could focus on his new career as a media analyst, and even enjoy a regular game of cards with ‘good mate’ Shane Warne.
Not many AFL players get to play for over four years or 40 games, but in a career that had him feature for over 200 matches, score 109 goals, and get cut-short after 12 seasons for an off-field altercation, Brown is considered a legend in his own right.
And that’s where kabaddi came in. That’s where kabaddi needed him. Ahead of the Indian sport’s third World Cup, the formation of an Australian team was experimented with. Naturally, given the contact sport’s aggressive nature, scouts searched through the list of former AFL players to pick up the game. “Some of the attributes that you need in the AFL are applicable in kabaddi. In both you can get tackled from behind or from the side, or the front,” explains Brown, who is captain of the Australian team. Along with him, former AFL stars Adam Schneider and Stephen Milne too have travelled to Ahmedabad for the event. “This gives us older players a chance to play for Australia in another sport,” adds the 33-year-old.
Kabaddi, the sleeper hit of India’s newest whim – sporting leagues has emerged as the country’s favourite contact sports code. India now has its own contact sport attracting global attention from the USA to Australia to Japan and Iran to Argentina and Kenya, all of whom are strong rugby nations especially in the Sevens format.
The experiment to spread the game to foreign lands was conducted in England years before, and more recently in the United States as well, with locals using rugby and American Football respectively as a reference point toward understanding the Indian game. “From a western point of view, the first thing people generally familiarise kabaddi with is rugby. So it’s natural to look at players from a rugby background,” explains England captain Someshwar Kalia.
Simultaneously the Americans saw the work of a raider to win touch points with another pastime game. “I’d say it’s like professional tag,” says David Ritchey, a raider for the American outfit.
While the English have steadily formed a strong college-based culture in the sport, both the Americans and Australians were hastened into setting up a squad just over a month before the tournament could start.
At the Essendon Football Club ground in Melbourne, three-time Asian Games gold medallist for India Navneet Gautam set himself up to mould a set of kabaddi players from athletes who had spent their entire life perfecting the art of the indigenous Australian sport. He recalls facing a stiff problem with getting his wards to adjust to kabaddi’s required low posture. “AFL style is very upright, but you need to bend low for kabaddi. Bahut pyaar se baar baar samjhana padta tha unhe,” Gautam asserts.
Brown though remembers his coach as a tough taskmaster. “You go back to old habits sometimes. Everytime our coach sees us up, he slaps us,” he says, laughing.
In turn, in the England lineup, their star raider Tope Adewalure was once a rugby enthusiast, along with their bullish defender Nikesh Farmah. At the same time, Poland, which has a growing culture of American football too formed a kabaddi player pool from the western contact game. So much so that team captain Michal Spiczko, who featured for the Bengaluru Bulls for two seasons of the Pro Kabaddi League was a two-time MVP for the Warsaw Eagles in the American game before he turned his attention to kabaddi.
Brown too has had his fair share of AFL success, given that he was a part of Hawthorn’s 2008 championship winning team. He holds fond memories of the celebrity status he enjoys back home. Once in a while, he’s approached by children for an autograph or photograph. At the same time, it’s that same celebrity that he asserts might bring the game attention in Australia. “There’s a lot of press at home because of the presence of AFL players,” he says.
In kabaddi though, he’s found another ‘crazy’ adventure he hopes to take up. That is, of course, when he isn’t attempting to swim across the English Channel for the Shane Warne Foundation, or playing game of cards with the legendary bowler himself.