The International Kabaddi Federation (IKF), the world body governing kabaddi, has always chased a spot under the bright arc-lights of the Olympics. But with barely a handful of countries playing the sport, the route to the Olympics will be long and arduous.
With this in mind, the IKF invited 12 teams for the recent Kabaddi World Cup, with squads from countries like USA being propped up just weeks before the event. This, the IKF hopes, will spur the growth of the sport in new territories and eventually lead to a spot at the Games.
But there was a time 80 years ago when the sport had a brief dalliance with the Games, thanks to a little-known educational institute in Amravati called the Hanuman Vyayam Prasarak Mandal (HVPM), which was invited to the 1936 Games to give demonstrations of disciplines like mallakhamb and kabaddi, known as ‘hu tu tu’ back then.
At the time, HVPM’s vice president, Dr Siddhanath Kane, saw the Berlin Games as an opportunity to popularise Indian physical education techniques. So he wrote to Carl Diem, the chief organiser of the Berlin Olympics, expressing his institute’s wish to do demonstrations during the Olympics. After a few letters were exchanged, Diem agreed.
Convincing the Indian Olympic Association (IOA) also did not prove to be a roadblock as Dr Kane served on its Executive Committee. And so it was that the HVPM sent an unofficial 35-member contingent to Berlin, which also performed at the Congress of Physical Education held in the city in July, right before the Olympics.
“At the time, I was just a four-year-old. But my father told me later about that Berlin trip. The HVPM contingent to Berlin was to demonstrate Indian way of doing physical exercises to the Western world. HVPM’s functionaries at the time thought the rest of world needed to know the importance for India of practises like mallakhamb and kabaddi,” says Dr. Kane’s son, Padmakar Kane.
The demonstrations were a big hit, he adds. The audiences were spellbound by the martial arts displays and the kabaddi. Kane says that many of the regional newspapers back in Europe reported the unorthodox disciplines shown at the stadium.
News of the unofficial contingent soon reached the Fuhrer through his Propaganda Minister Joseph Goebbels.
“(Adolf) Hitler granted the unofficial contingent a 20-minute audience. He asked my father ‘Does the contingent you brought here represent average Indians?’ On the last day of the Olympics, Hitler gave the visiting contingent a medal.”
While the medal, a reminder of kabaddi’s tryst with the Olympics, remains safely in Amravati, the memory has been forgotten 80 years on.