Defending champions U Mumba will start their title defence with a clash against Telugu Titans as the third season of the Star Sports Pro Kabaddi begins in Visakhapatnam on Saturday.
Apart from the Indian stars, 26 foreign players will also showcase their skills this season, in which eight teams will fight for the title.
The decision to make Star Sports Pro Kabaddi League (PKL) a biennial affair from this year received a big thumbs up from the players who feel the sport will receive a big boost.
The league started in 2014 with Jaipur Pink Panthers winning the inaugural edition. The 2015 edition saw U Mumba emerging as champions. In these two years, as claimed by promoters Mashal Sports director Charu Sharma, the popularity of the sport soared so high that it is the second most watched league in the country.
The players too have backed this idea, saying that it will help them stay in top shape through the better part of the year.
“In earlier years, we used to train to a greater degree when we were about to play a tournament be it domestic or international. Otherwise the national camps would run. But playing competitive kabaddi is an altogether different experience,” Dabang Delhi player Wazir Singh, who captained Puneri Paltan for the last two years, said.
Moreover, unlike in World Cups or Asian Games or the National Championship, a player has to maintain his intensity levels for five to six weeks while playing in the PKL.
Apart from this, youngsters will be encouraged to turn professional as the players will earn decent money.
“For all, it is a good situation,” Jaipur skipper Navneet Gautam, a three-time Asian Games champion, opined. “Because of the television coverage, kabaddi’s popularity has surged and two editions will give a big boost in this regard.”
Senior vice-president, STAR India, Anupam Goswami said Senior vice-president, STAR India, Anupam Goswami said that promoting Kabbadi was part of the organisation’s vision.
“We have done fairly with the Kabaddi. It is our ambition to foster multi-sport culture in India,” he said.
He said that viewership of the Kabaddi has seen a significant increase and is the second most viewed sport after cricket in the country.
International Kabaddi Federation President Janardan Singh Gehlot said Kabaddi has started getting a lot of attention.
“Kabaddi had no recognition. Now we have come to a stage that even a Dhaba wala watches it on television. We have 31 countries where Kabbadi is played and we want to popularise it throughout the world so that it is also included in the Olympics.”
The third season of the franchise-based competition will feature 60 games to be played on specially developed mats, in state-of-the-art indoor stadiums across 34 days. The league will also come to Delhi between February 24 to February 27 and four matches will be played at the Thyagaraj Indoor Stadium.
It will finally return to the national capital for playoffs, semi-finals and the finals, scheduled for March 4 and 5.