Among all sports that one can think of, Kabaddi belongs to a unique, and rather peculiar, bracket. It can be found in almost every corner of the country, whether that corner is in a small village, a small town, or a big metropolis like Mumbai or Delhi. You could find it in school and college competitions, with two teams playing for a trophy, or in housing societies or streets with the two sides playing simply for bragging rights or earning a free vada-pav (losers pay).
This organic popularity, while being something that the football or hockey can only dream of achieving in the country, has also been a bane. For Kabaddi has seldom been looked upon as a serious sport. For years the likes of Anup Kumar have played Kabaddi professionally with little or no recognition. Despite it being the national sport of Bangladesh, Kabaddi is yet to be given a place in the Olympics or the Commonwealth Games. It is being played in the Asian Games since 1990 but that has done little to improve the stature of the sport in the international psyche.
It remains to be seen whether it will help in the long run, but the unveiling of the fifth season of the Pro Kabaddi League gave a sense of the term “waking up a sleeping giant.” The league, now called Pro Kabaddi, has lost a word and added four new teams, making it the biggest professional league in the country in terms of the number of teams. It will be held over three months this year, with the first week’s fixture being played at Hyderabad.
Hyderabad also hosts the opening ceremony and the unveiling of the trophy for the new season. The latter was held on Thursday. Captains of all 12 teams were also unveiled during the event. “I am transported back to the day we decided to launch the league,” said Star Sports MD Sanjay Gupta, “I am filled with immense pride to see how the league has made tremendous impact and grown continuously. It’s now constituted as the biggest domestic sports league with twelve new teams and expanding to new geographies. I look forward to a thrilling season of three months and I am confident that it will make history all over again.”
Bright lights, colours and glitz have been a feature of the league in all its previous editions but the fact that the sport remains in its nascent stages professionally comes out from a few small details. For example, a curious glance into the players’ plates while they were having lunch before the event told us that they cared little for controlling their fat or sugar intake. “These players have been brought up in environments where they are used to eating a lot,” said one of the members of the Gujarat Fortune Giants’ coaching staff, “Kabaddi is not an endurance sport but there is a certain diet chart that is recommended to be followed. At the end of the day the players have to remain comfortable and so, it is better to let them eat whatever they want.” He said this is a reason why diet regimes cannot be imposed on this generation of players in Pro Kabaddi before adding that it may not be the case a few years down the line.
Two matches will be played on the opening day of Pro Kabaddi Season five. The first will be between Telugu Titans and Tamil Thalaivas which will be followed by U Mumba vs Puneri Paltan.
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