The Vibrant Gujarat Summit is still a few months away but the phrase ‘Make In India’ is being thrown about a lot these days at Ahmedabad. While most of the mentions are about a ‘made in India’ sport - kabaddi - having a glitzy World Cup in a (mostly) indigenously made stadium, a curious aspect of this is also the coaches of foreign teams. In the months prior to arriving in India, many teams have been shaped, taught rules and honed by desi coaches delegated by the International Kabaddi Federation (whose President and CEO are Indian).
Indian coaches: Navneet Gautam and Srinivas Reddy
on Saturday night before taking on India in their first game, the Australians on the mat were being lightly punched on their chests by a tall, suited figure who last made headlines in 2014. Navneet Gautam, who led the Jaipur Pink Panthers to victory in the inaugural Pro Kabaddi League, spent the better part of September in Melbourne, scouting for boys from the C and D divisions of the Australian Football League (AFL).
In the limited time, Gautam along with former Telugu Titans coach Srinivas Reddy were however, only able to sign players whose AFL or other sporting careers were past, as the professionals had their hands full. Interestingly, Gautam still considers himself in the reckoning for the Indian kabaddi team (he’s been out with an injury) so he’s going to have a point or two to prove.
Indian coach: KC Suthar
A surprise on this list is not Thailand or Kenya but Iran, which has had a strong kabaddi culture in the past decade. Yet, the IKF sent in KC Suthar, coach of the Sports Authority of India (SAI) Centre from 1999 to 2008 (i.e. coach to many current Team India and PKL stars) to on-going training camps in Tehran two months prior to October.
While his task did not involve scouting or teaching from scratch, Suthar told us his side’s target of winning the World Cup meant hard work. Iranians have been technically sound in this format of kabaddi, but Suthar – via a translator, because Meraj Sheykh and co. cannot string together a line in English – claims to have given them valuable tactical tips for this. With Iran winning their first game and India losing theirs, Suthar has already indulged in some banter.
Indian-origin coach: Ashok Das
The England kabaddi team, which looks like a telephone directory sheet from the desi-dominated area of Southhall in London, is being coached by Ashok Das, who was born in Punjab but began his own kabaddi movement in the UK about a decade ago. He may have done it innocuously to keep regiments of the British Army fit but the sport has caught on, albeit in pockets. Since the Pro Kabaddi League has happened, the TV coverage has enticed many young Brits to try it out in school playgrounds or in their backyards.
Das who has also coached England’s women kabaddi team is here with colleague Phoebe Schecter, former captain of the Great Britain Lions Women’s rugby team.
Indian coaches: Harwinder Singh and K Ganesh
The Polish boys were out showing their aggression last night and their Punjabi coach and pretty much the pioneer of kabaddi in eastern Europe is to thank for that. Harwinder Singh left for Warsaw to study in 2000 and a few years later founded the Kabaddi Federation of Poland with fellow Indian students. Singh credits Ashok Das for having helped develop the game in the country.
With Singh, Kerala State Sports Council’s K Ganesh too trained the team for two weeks prior to landing in Ahmedabad. From what we have seen of the Polish so far in the practice games and their close encounter with Kenya on Saturday, the Indian coaches have got the boys to make the most of their big physiques. If there’s room for one non-Asian country in the final four, it shall be Poland.
Former coach for South Korea from India: Jaiveer Sharma
When an elated and sweaty Jang Kun-Lee of the South Korean kabaddi team was asked about knowing the Indian conditions in the presser following their historic win against India, he credited his training stint at SAI, Gandhinagar. In 2012, Jaiveer Sharma began coaching the Korean team at the sports complex for the Incheon Asian Games 2014. Lee’s team only managed bronze then but many of them who are in the current team picked invaluable skills and tactics of kabaddi.
The Koreans are now coached by Jae ho Cho and Hee Jong Kim but the team collectively bowing to Jaiveer Singh after a stunning win over India on Friday said it all. Interestingly, they also have to thank the Technical Director of the IKF, Prasad Rao aka ‘Kabaddi Rao’ for having introduced the game and its rules to Korean officials way back in 2002.
Indian-origin coach: Mohinder Singh Sidhu
The American team isn’t a chip off the Indian diaspora like its British counterpart, and the man leading the all-black side is another Punjabi. Sidhu was among the first to get local Sikh and Indian communities together in New York around 2010 and the outfit he created, Punjabi Virsa Sports Association, also organised championships which saw much local buzz.
Being the President of the IKF-affiliate body that plays circle-style kabaddi is different than coaching a side to a World Cup, and Sidhu might be aiming for at least one upset. USA’s opener against Iran was a disaster that ended at 15-52, but given that most of Sidhu’s boys appeared on field within hours of landing in India, there may be better shows after they get jet-leg out of the way.