Kho Kho, the backyard game, set to get modern twist with technology, new rules, and slick packaging

New Delhi: Remember Kho Kho, the popular indigenous pastime that needed no infrastructure or equipment but still tested your strength, speed, and stamina? The backyard game is all set to get some jazz with custom-made gear, state-of-the-art production and a clever tweak of rules.

 Kho Kho, the backyard game, set to get modern twist with technology, new rules, and slick packaging

A player performs a sky dive at an event organised by KKFI in New Delhi. Image courtesy: Ultimate Kho Kho

In April this year, the Kho Kho Federation of India (KKFI) announced the launch of an IPL-style franchise-based league. While the inaugural season is still some months away, the national federation and Ultimate Kho Kho – the league – are already testing some far-reaching innovations which, if KKFI president Sudhanshu Mittal is to be believed, are "bound to capture the imagination of the nation."

India have consistently done well at international Kho Kho meets, and are the reigning South Asian Games champions. The national team has also won the Asian Kho Kho Championships gold, the International Kho Kho Championships gold (2017-18), and has beaten England in home and away series.

However, despite the national team's success, Kho Kho is far from becoming a premier sport in the country.

"It needs to reinvent itself," says Mittal. "We are trying to put in all the ingredients of any contemporary sport in Kho Kho to make it more spectator-friendly."

Among the most basic, yet game-changing innovations is the change in playing surface. In its most rudimentary form, Kho Kho is played on the bare ground, and though the federation has been conducting national-level tournaments on synthetic mats for two years now, they were hardly customised to meet specific movements that the sport entails, making them susceptible to injuries.

"Our efforts are to reduce injuries by introducing the new mat which will be a first for the sport," Tenzing Niyogi, CEO, Ultimate Kho Kho said.

As per KKFI's research, the mats need to be softer than the ones being used while ensuring that the pace of the game is not slowed and action and reaction of the players during take-off or landing are not hampered. After several sets of experiments and consultation with a host of domestic manufacturers, the league has decided to get mats with '40-50 density' since such mats will reduce the risk of injuries to a great extent.

Another step in that direction is getting custom-made shoes for the players. Kho Kho players, as of now, wear shoes that are tighter at the ankle and are more suited for straight movements. For a sport that requires constant twisting and turning, such shoes run the risk of causing injuries during dives and runs. New shoes will be wider at the ankle and will have better grip so that players don’t skid while take-off and landing, a representative of Ultimate Kho Kho said.

Besides playing gear, efforts are on to modify the rules to suit broadcast preferences. The four-inning matches will last 28 minutes instead of 36 (as is the norm), and a whole set of rules may undergo significant transformation, even as slow-motion replays and video referrals aim to boost the overall spectator experience.

The KKFI has also decided to introduce a greater number of assistant umpires in the field of play on the lines of tennis. These umpires will be entrusted to watch for the 'tags', and in case of 'challenge by the players', it will be their job to indicate the Pole Referee by raising green flags, following which the decision will go to the third umpire for a video referral.

The federation, in fact, has already tested the new rules in mock runs in Jaipur and New Delhi, while another three-day workshop (31 August - 2 September) for referees and players will take place in Ajmer. Over 60 referees and umpires are expected to be in attendance when finer points of production will be put to test.

"Every minute will be an event at Ultimate Kho Kho," said Niyogi. "The unique camera angles will capture sky-dives, pole-dives, dodging and other subtleties, and will attract people of all age groups."

As per KKFI, over 20 lakh players have participated in Kho Kho in Khelo India School and College Games, and the sport is played in at least 72,000 schools across the country. The numbers are astronomical, and if the penetration of sport in real terms is as deep as KKFI officials suggest, Kho Kho might well be the second indigenous sport  – after Kabaddi – to make it big on the television.

"Over the last two years, the KKFI has put in a lot of effort. Our greatest accomplishment came when we got Kho Kho recognised as an Asian sport in the last meeting of the Olympic Council of Asia (OCA). We have revamped the entire federation and the upcoming league will give the sport a major boost. The awareness and craze for this game are bound to grow," said Mittal.

Updated Date: Jul 30, 2019 16:48:48 IST