The collisions are fast and fierce, the athletes powerful and imposing, and the traditions run deep. Kabaddi, an Indian team sport, is getting bigger, more professional, and more popular in BC.
Mostly played as one-day tournament here, this weekend's game in Surrey is likely to draw
a crowd of more than 5,000 to the Bell Centre's purpose-built kabaddi stadium. Other tournaments in BC every summer include Vancouver Island, the Okanagan, Vancouver, and the upcoming Abbotsford tournament in Sept.
The game, mostly popular among Punjabi diaspora, offers good money to winners. Players can pull in $50,000 or $60,000 during a three-month summer season in Canada, between BC and Ontario. The top prize at the annual Kabaddi World Cup in India is more than $300,000 Canadian.
Outside of the South Asian community, BC's most famous ex-kabaddi player is Daniel Igali, a wrestler who won gold for Canada in the Sydney Olympics in 2000. Igali picked up kabaddi in Surrey in 1995, shortly after he arrived from Nigeria. Igali tells the story of how he saw some Punjabi kids tackling each other in a park in Surrey and expressed his interest to play it.
"After a while, I went and talked to them, and I said I wanted to play," Igali said, adding, "They just laughed at me, like I wouldn't be able to play."
But Igali could play. He went on to become one of the first non-Punjabi kabaddi players in Canada, and one of the top raiders in the competition. He played in tournaments across Canada, India, the US, Australia and England.
"I had a lot of fun playing kabaddi … I had a different style," he said, adding, "Because of my style, because I was very fast, they called me 'Toofan Singh' - it means 'Hurricane' in Punjabi."
For 20-year-old Daljinder Aujla, one of the youngest members of the Canadian national men's kabaddi team, the excitement of the game is worth the dislocated shoulder, dislocated knee and broken nose he's already sustained.
Aujla said: "It has everything: you have got to have guts, you've got to have power and skill. No padding, you just basically go at it."
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