Kabaddi players hit jackpot in the West
Move over cricket, in Punjab’s heartland — and in high-profile gatherings all over Canada and England — kabaddi is king.
From today (Saturday), NRIs in England will compete for bragging rights as clubs owned by them kick off England’s annual kabaddi season (circle kabaddi). While Brampton in Canada began the Canadian season last weekend, the star Toronto league also kicks off today. The last batch (of a total of 300 players from Punjab) left on Friday tonight for England and Canada. About a 100 players have been picked for 14 English clubs this year, while about 200 are headed for 22 Canadian clubs.
A season lasts four months and has a budget of about 70-80 crore, comparable only to cricket in India. In fact, many players earn more in a year than India’s best first-class cricketers. For instance, a player who plays professional kabaddi either in Canada, England, the United States or Europe over the summer and later joins the Indian season (from November to March), earns a minimum of Rs 6 to 8 lakh per year with the best earning between 40-80 lakh, including gifts in kind.
“Kabaddi is very popular in Canada and a good player can earn his living through it,” Kulwinder Singh, captain of the Canadian team and originally from Kapurthala, told HT. Kulwinder went to Canada to play professional kabaddi for a Vancouver club in the early 90s and then settled there after marrying a Canadian citizen.
Last year, a Punjab player, Dulla Phelwan, now settled in the US, got an 18-wheel truck worth $100,000 (about 46 lakh) from the owner of Shahid Bhagat Singh Sports Club for being instrumental in the club topping the American kabaddi circuit. The sport is so popular with the NRI community purely because the guy with the best team gets the most respect and wields great influence in their social circuit.
“Every year, hundreds of kabaddi players from Punjab play professional kabaddi for different clubs in Canada and England and the money is increasing day by day,” said Sangrur’s Satpal Singh, who is headed for Canada to commentate on kabaddi matches. “This year, around 300 players applied for the Canadian visa, but only 200 could get it.”
Even the commentators make good money. A good commentator earns about Rs three lakh from the Indian circuit and another three lakh if he goes to Canada or England. “Commentary is a full time profession and my only source of income,” said Satpal.
This season, Kuljit Malsia bagged Canada’s top contract for Rs 30 lakh. India captain Mangat Singh Mangi got a 20 lakh contract, while Gurlal Singh Ghanour is the highest paid player on the English circuit, with a 25 lakh deal.