A shadow has been cast over the fourth annual Kabaddi World Cup set to kick off in Punjab on Saturday, as the ancient Indian sport has once again been tainted by drugs.
At the top levels of international kabaddi in recent years, as prize money has grown bigger and bigger — this year’s top prize, sponsored by the Punjab government, is worth $300,000 — the game has become rife with doping scandals.
At the 2011 Kabaddi World Cup in India, 53 players from 11 countries tested positive for banned substances, including eight Canadians — at the time, it wasn’t clear whether the athletes had tested positive for steroids or other banned substances.
But this year the scandal goes beyond just the players and includes promoters and others involved in the sport.
The fourth annual tournament arrives on the heels of a massive drug bust by Punjab police earlier this month, which saw the arrest of wrestler-turned-police officer, Jagdish Bhola, who was identified as the alleged drug kingpin of a multi-million dollar network supplying more than 300kg of heroin and amphetamine to North America and Europe.
According to Indian media, his arrest further revealed he had more than 30 non-resident-Indians allegedly involved in helping to smuggle the drugs out of India. Police released a list of names of the accused to Indian news agencies, including men associated with kabaddi and who are known to promote it abroad and often return to India for events and philanthropic activities.
Indian police believe these men are likely to travel to Punjab for the upcoming World Cup, running Dec 4 to 14, so they’ve requested the help of Interpol to catch them if they cross the border.
“The accused would be arrested soon. Many of them have gone underground, but we will nab them.
A number of the accused were Indo Canadians, including Dara Mothada, past-president of sports club Azaad Kabaddi BC, a kabaddi player believed to be living in the Lower Mainland region, as well as two other individuals believed to be living in the Greater Toronto area.
According to the police investigation, it revealed Bhola and his associates have allegedly smuggled more than $845 million of drugs out of India. Apart from Bhola, six other people have been arrested so far in the case.
Meanwhile, the Punjab government has been trying to keep the upcoming tournament dope-free by having all the Indian kabaddi players undergo drug tests administered by the National Anti-Doping Agency.
A total of 12 teams from across the globe, including Canada and the US, will be competing in the 2013 Kabaddi World Cup.