Total prize money Rs 4.11 crore; winner’s share Rs 2 crore. No, we’re not talking about cricket, golf or tennis! We’re taking about the World Cup of Punjab-style Kabaddi — a rural sport played predominantly in the state — which has overtaken a majority of non-cricket disciplines in the country as far as the prize money is concerned.
Unlike national-style Kabaddi, which is recognised by the government and has a federation to manage it, it is the unrecognised Punjabi-style Kabaddi, which is raking in the moolah, even as its traditional counterpart struggles to find a firm monetary footing. It started last year when the Punjab government took the initiative to organise the inaugural World Cup with a total prize money of Rs 2.16 crore. The second edition, staged last month in the state, was a big step forward.
The matches were telecast live on a regional channel, and were viewed, not just locally but in Canada, the US and UK. “Punjab has a culture of rural sports, and most large villages host festivals in which Kabaddi holds centrestage. For some time, the players have been earning a decent livelihood. Now, with the advent of the World Cup, Kabaddi has got a further boost,” says Sukhdarshan Chahal, a Kabaddi statistician.
It’s not that money has started to pour in only after the World Cup. The sport is blessed with a large number of NRI patrons, because of whom club leagues exist in Europe, Canada, the US and Australia, and now the World Cup has become a regular fixture. Having a top Kabaddi player on their club’s rolls earns NRIs the bragging rights, so they spend lavishly to get the best in their fold. They even visit India to scout for talent. “The budget for Kabaddi is between Rs 20-25 crore in Canada. The sport’s global budget touches Rs 75 crore, and another Rs 10-15 crore is spent on cultural programmes during tournaments,” says Karan Singh Ghuman, who owns the Punjab Sports and Cultural Club in Toronto.
Foreign club leagues
A few professional Kabaddi players earn more than what footballers or even cricketers do in a domestic season. For a season in Canada or England, which lasts three-four months, around 40 players, who come in the top bracket, earn between Rs 20-25 lakh.
“This year, around 400 players played for various clubs in Canada, England, Italy and US,” says Sandeep Singh, who plies his trade in England and is now a British citizen.
“Kabaddi is almost solely responsible for what I’ve earned thus far. An injury-free season yields around Rs 20-25 lakh,” he says.
Now, the federation of the national-style Kabaddi has jumped on the bandwagon and is trying to glamourise the sport by organising the Kabaddi Premier League (KPL).