The Indian contingent produced its best-ever performance in the quadrennial Asian Games in 2018 with a haul of 69 medals, including 15 golds.
But the country was left stunned when the men's and women's kabaddi teams failed to bring home gold medals from the Asiad, which had so far been considered assured medals.
With India's dominance of the traditional sport looking shaky, another indigenous discipline — kho kho — is looking to grab the imagination of the world, and consequently make an appearance at the Asian Games in 2022.
Speaking at an event in New Delhi where the format of the forthcoming kho kho league — to be called Ultimate Kho Kho — was revealed, Kho Kho Federation of India (KKFI) President Sudhanshu Mittal said that he believed a modern, repackaged version of the game will help spread its popularity to levels never seen before.
"When kho kho in its modern avatar will be shown live on television, repackaged as a faster and a more entertaining product, then only will the game spread to every village and city. The entire idea is to make it a very, very exciting game... A game that will grab the imagination of the entire country, and subsequently the entire world.
"We’re very confident that in 2022, the sport will be part of the next Asiad as a medal event. So India can proudly think of having two gold medals at least from kho kho," said Mittal, who added that the use of new technology will contribute towards the revamping of the game.
Rajeev Mehta, KKFI chairman and Indian Olympic Association (IOA) general secretary, stated that the popularity and growth of a sport is directly proportional to the money that a player earns from it, and that Ultimate Kho Kho will help boost the financial security of the players involved.
"The appeal of a sport is one thing… it’s when an athlete earns a good amount from playing the game that they stick to it. The agreement that we have had for the upcoming league is a big one. The basic prices that we have set will only increase with sponsorships.
"A sport is only popular after players get good salaries. Only then will parents encourage their kids to go play that sport," Mehta told Firstpost in a chat on the sidelines of the event.
As far as the global participation is concerned, Mehta said that the organisers had approached various National Olympic Committees (NOC) stating a requirement of four players from that country, and mostly receiving favourable responses in return.
Mehta, who said he expects players to turn up from nations such as Australia, New Zealand and the United Kingdom, believes that the experience that the foreign players will get from participating in this tournament will also help in the spread of the game.
"We will be taking care of their travel, food, and accommodation costs, and when they improve their game here, they’ll only carry their experience back home and help spread the game in those countries. It is a better solution to spread the game globally than to send coaches to various parts of the world," said the senior IOA administrator.
However, there is a complication as far as the involvement of the foreign players is concerned. Players from Pakistan have also expressed interest in participating in the event, and that seems a little difficult in light of the anti-Pakistan sentiment that has been emerged in India over the last few months following the Pulwama terror attack and the consequent Balakot air strike.
"We’ll talk to the government after 23 May (when the results of the General Elections are announced). It’s not just kho kho, there are several other sports in which a solution cannot be obtained without prior permission from the government. So the IOA will talk to the Centre after the formation of the government," added Mehta.
Ultimate Kho Kho, which is expected to take place sometime around November and will be preceded by a training camp and a player auction, will introduce a number of new features and revamped rules to help make for a faster version of the game. The duration of a match has been shortened to a total of 28 minutes, which the match divided into four turns of seven minutes each (two minutes shorter than the original rule).
Another feature is the introduction of a 'wazir', a trump card in the team who can be used to accumulate more points and attacks. A 'wazir' is free to run either left or right on the wing, but cannot cross the centre line, and will always have to get a perfect 'kho' in order to avoid a foul. Additionally, extra points will be rewarded for agile maneouvres such as 'sky dives' and 'pole dives'. The league will also witness the implementation of a review system.
"Money should flow into this sport so that kids from different villages and towns start to get their skills honed to come and play for this league," said Amit Burman, vice-chairman of Dabur Foods that is the main promoter of the league.
Updated Date: May 17, 2019 08:41:31 IST