Even though it is a World Cup, mistaking this for an annual gathering of Punjabis from around the world won't be too much of a stretch. Irrespective of the passports they possess, most players' roots are strictly desi.
But, for the first time in three editions of the circle-style kabaddi
competition, there are teams apart from Pakistan, Afghanistan and Iran that are bucking the trend.
So, while the seeds were sown in Punjab, the branches have spread to Scotland, Denmark, Sierra Leone and Argentina. Apart from the Scandinavians, none of them have anyone of Indian origin in their ranks; the Latin Americans aren't even coached by one.
“Very simple, very cheap. I love all Indian sports!” exclaims Argentine coach Ricardo, who got interested in kabaddi through internet friend Amandeep Kooner of Canada — yes, there's a Punjabi connection after all. But no such link exists in case of Allen Bo Jakobsen, who like Ricardo likes the sport as it “is easy to set up, doesn't cost much and has simple rules. It somehow feels closer to nature”.
Back when he was a wrestling coach, Jakobsen, who is now the president of the Kabaddi Federation of Denmark, got acquainted with the desi sport thanks to the Iranian grappling community.
And while the Dane finds kabaddi to be an ideal vehicle to promote inclusion and multiculturalism, there's a definite trend that cannot be missed ---attraction to the sport's earthiness. Perhaps it's the spiritual succession of the West's obsession with Indian mysticism.
Of course, like the Brits have learnt the hard way, there's always the chance of the student becoming the teacher, especially if kabaddi gets the nod for Olympic inclusion. Major Singh, the 40-something playing coach, sounds out a fair warning: “With so many youngsters in Punjab into drugs, the day is not far when the Caucasians and the Africans upstage the Indians and the Pakistanis.”
But, given the mauling received by Denmark, Argentina and Sierra Leone at the hands of England, Iran and Pakistan, respectively, over the first two days of competition, it seems as if that day is not too near, either.
Clearly, just being interested in a back-to-basics sport isn't enough. “We have the physique, but not the technique,” says Ricardo. “Till last year, we'd never had any real exposure.”
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