Anand Mahindra, co-promoter of the Pro Kabaddi league, talks about what attracted him to the sport.
How did the idea of Pro Kabaddi come about?
My brother-in-law and sports commentator, Charu Sharma, reintroduced me to the sport and explained how the game had evolved and almost reinvented itself into a modern, competitive international offering. While Charu had piqued my interest, it was former NBA President, Heidi Ueberroth, who made me think about kabaddi very seriously. In 2010, during her visit to India, Heidi mentioned being captivated by what she saw on Indian television. Given its fast paced, action-packed raids and the combination of strategy, teamwork and athleticism, she convinced me that kabaddi was the ‘complete sport’ ideally suited for television audiences.
I appealed to Charu’s entrepreneurial instincts to set up the Pro Kabaddi league.
What about the sport appeals to you individually?
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I was fascinated to learn that the sport has its origins in the Indian epics — to Abhimanyu’s raids into the Chakravyuha in the Mahabharata. Kabaddi is therefore a truly Indian sport, part of our history and heritage. The sport also encompasses many facets of athleticism — power, agility, stamina and courage. At the same time, kabaddi involves a fair amount of strategy and teamwork.
The more I learnt about the sport, the more I felt that this Indian sport, which has now gained global recognition, is ‘in a league of its own’ and therefore deserves a league of its own’.
What kept kabaddi going when the Mahindras stopped the other teams?
I think the fact that the Mahindra kabaddi team survived is testament to the power of the game rather than anything else. M&M, of course, has always had a significant presence in Maharashtra, which in many respects is considered the home of kabaddi. The sport is very popular across the state and it isn’t surprising that despite budgetary constraints, the love and passion for kabaddi within the Mahindra ecosystem kept it alive.
Why did you choose to go it alone and not with the entire corporation’s support?
M&M focuses on initiatives allied to the business, adding to the brand value. Mahindra Racing therefore has teams participating in the 2 wheeler Moto GP championship. We also recently entered Formula E, FIA’s electric car championship. I did not want to foist my passion onto the company.
What do you see as a challenge to this league?
Kabaddi runs to packed audiences, be it big cities or small villages. The biggest challenge will be in translating this love, emotion and passion that the spectators inside the stadium feel to the TV audience.