There are no countdowns in sports pages yet, no rhetoric nor any news channel nostalgia about it. The 2016 Kabaddi World Cup is coming at us from a vacuum, we may strain to see behind it if it’s carrying a legacy but there’s virtually none. Ironically for India’s oldest sport, one that was either played or watched by all our grandparents and then theirs, there have been just two World Cups till date, in 2004 and 2007.
Next Friday in Ahmedabad will thus be a historic re-birth for the Kabaddi World Cup in the internationally recognised format (the Badal government of Punjab has organised five annual ‘World Cups’ in Ludhiana since 2010 but they have been more like invitational tournaments featuring ‘circle style’ kabaddi, not recognised by the Amateur Kabaddi Federation of India or the International Kabaddi Federation) and its stakes will be many times higher than those in its brief history.
So just how seriously should we take this Kabaddi World Cup, and how many firsts will it offer?
The Pro Kabaddi League factor
The obvious game-changer for this event is that it will feature an Indian team studded with stars created by the Pro Kabaddi League which turned the sport into mass entertainment in 2014. The League has grown sharply in stature and viewership and has already had four seasons (two of them this year itself). It has built heroes, underdogs and icon players who are household names, and seven of them will wear the India jersey. (Avid PKL fans will also be able to recognise most in the Iran side.)
While calling Team India the ‘dream team,’ let’s take a moment to ponder if this is the first instance for any sport that its World Cup is being revived to life thanks to the success of a franchise-based league.
Next best to Olympics
The Pro Kabaddi League also revived rhetoric about kabaddi being included in the Olympics in the future and you might have chanced upon Anup Kumar or a Manjeet Chhillar mentioning this. The closest they have come to seeking glory for India has been at the Asian Games, South Asian Games, Asian Indoor Games and Asian Beach Games. Doesn’t quite compare with ‘PV Sindhu levels’ of competition, they know, and they’d be ready to go out on a limb to earn the ‘World Cup winner’ tag.
With the IOC only giving Olympics status to sports which are played by men in ‘at least 75 countries and four continents and women in 40 countries and three continents’, the Olympic dream is a bit far away to say the least. But hey, the Kabaddi World Cup will definitely be more global in participation than ICC Cricket World Cup 2019, howzzat?
No Pakistan or Canada
There’s enough 'raiding' being done by India in the aftermath of the Uri attacks, so Pakistan’s absence now seems like a no-brainer. In fact, the federation officials who announced the draws even before the attacks will be patting themselves on the back for having been able to avoid controversy. Politics apart, Pakistan has seen some formidable talent in the sport, having been runner-up in the ‘circle style’ World Cup four times of out five. At the South Asian Games in Guwahati in February, they lost a close final to an Anup Kumar-led India.
Surprisingly though, the North American continent is represented by USA and not Canada, which has more clubs (Populated by NRI Sikhs) and a more active calendar.
No players from Maharashtra either
The North, West and South clans of the Indian kabaddi circuit are an open secret, but one would have still hoped for a fair rope to all players in national selection. The 14-member Indian team, however has no players from Mumbai or Maharashtra, and a big miss is that of Kashiling Adake from Sangli - the lanky raider whose match-winning abilities have been shining consistently in the PKL. Other notable absentees at Ahmedabad will be Rishank Devadiga, prolific raider of U Mumba, his BPCL colleague Vishal Mane and Mane’s current franchise captain Nilesh Shinde. Mane and ‘Kashi’ would particularly feel left out especially after having donned India colours at the SAG 2016.
All this said, we don't care much for history as we do for entertainment, and the Kabaddi World Cup looks promising to offer tons of that. Whether it will grow into a regular international fixture every two years or earlier is a call the suits will take based on how many of us watch. As for the countdown, we can begin one right away – eight days to go.
Updated Date: Sep 30, 2016 15:20 PM