Kabaddi, despite being one of the oldest indigenous sports in our country, has only recently cemented its place amongst the most watched sporting events in India thanks to the Pro Kabaddi League (PKL). Cutting across demographics, the first season has had a viewership of 435 million, second only to the wildly popular Indian Premier League, and has seen a 45% increase in television viewership during the second season. The exciting nature of the game and loud, menacing chants topped up with celebrity owners and sleek coverage on televisions have resulted in the revival of Kabaddi in many ways.
K. Jagdishwar Yadav, Secretary of the Telangana Kabaddi Association and the General Secretary of the Telangana Olympic Association feels that showcasing Kabaddi in a more contemporary format has generated renewed interest in a sport that was rarely followed on a competitive level, “Kabaddi has always enjoyed popularity in Telangana butthe Pro Kabaddi League has definitely raised awareness and brought in more people. We get lot more enquiries now about the coaching camps, selections and so on. Schools and colleges have also seen a considerable increase in participation.”
Pro Kabaddi League does not include women players yet but women of the city have been achieving milestones of their own, “Players from Hyderabad have always excelled. Indian Women’s Kabaddi team captain, Mamata Pujari and one of the most talented team members, Tejaswini Bai V, both Arjuna awardees, are from Hyderabad. They are doing very well on the international level. In fact, there is no one else who can be compared to Mamata and Tejaswini, they are number 1 and two in the country now,” said Yadav. Mamata Pujari captained the women’s kabaddi team that grabbed the gold medal at the Asian Games last year.
The roaring success of the Pro Kabaddi League has reaped rewards for the players as well. K. Jagmohan, Manager & Asst Coach of the Telugu Titans team is impressed with the way his team players have benefitted from PKL, “The League has really helped our players financially. Most of them come from middle or lower middle class families and due to the success of PKL, they have all gotten good jobs now. Banks, railways and other companies come to provide jobs as it also helps in advertising their department now that the players are famous.” He also finds a drastic improvement in their performances, “There used to be very few tournaments earlier, but now with more coaching camps to prepare for PKL, their fitness levels have increased considerably and has helped them perform more consistently. They know they have to be at their best for the tournament.” He added that the players have already started preparing for the next season that is scheduled to start in January.
Telugu Titans finished third in the second season after failing to qualify for the semifinals in the inaugral season. Their home ground, Gachibowli Indoor Stadium, drew large crowds for their games.
Najah Sameen, an avid fan of the league, finds it ‘amazing’ to have a home team to cheer for even though all the players do not belong to Telangana. “Since players are auctioned off, we have just one player, T Prasad, from Telangana playing for Telugu Titans. There are, of course, Hyderabadi players in other teams. Gangadhari Mallesh plays for Jaipur Pink Panthers and a few others play for Bengaluru Bulls. Nevertheless, it’s a lot of fun to watch Kabaddi, especially in this format.”