Sierra Leone, Kenya and Tanzania will perhaps be the last countries one can associate kabaddi with. Still, the Punjab government’s World Kabaddi Cup this year has three teams from the African countries. For Sierra Leone, who will travel a distance of nearly 10,000km, it will be their fourth visit, Tanzania are the debutants, while for Kenya, it’s their second appearance. The three teams’ players are natives and are in India on the invitation from the state government, who had sent kabaddi coaches to the countries to train the teams.
Sierra Leone also has plans to stay back for a month and take part in the upcoming local kabaddi tournaments in order to hone their skills. Introduced to the sport by the Indian expats, the natives got a further push to take a plunge into the tourney when the organisers changed rules which meant that only passport holders can represent a country. Until then, most of the foreign teams comprised NRI Punjabis.
Ravinder Singh Jassal, president of the Sierra Leone Kabaddi Federation, said initially he had tough time convincing the locals to take to the game. “They are physically strong, an essential for circle style kabaddi. So, I approached wrestling clubs and bouncers to take up the game. I even had to shell out money from my pocket for diet and other things. But now we have proper teams in both men and women categories,” Jassal said, who was himself a kabaddi player and shifted to Sierra Leone for business.
Kenya and Tanzania also participated in the recently concluded Kabaddi World Cup, organised by International Kabaddi Federation (IKF) in Ahmedabad.
Members of the 14-member Kenyan women’s team that will take on India in Ludhiana on Saturday are glad to be part of the event. Team’s coach Saron said Punjabi NRIs introduced them to the sport. “We were here in 2012 also. We do need more support from India. Maybe if they can spare coaches for training, certainly the game will get a boost,” he said. The only trouble Saron said has been the spicy Punjabi food that isn’t going down well with the Kenyans. “It’s too spicy, but is good. Other than that we are happy with the facilities,” he said.