You have no money to buy equipment or sportswear and there is no big stadium, track, turf, or available grass; yet you want to play a sport which is physically demanding and fun and you do not want to travel to enjoy it. There is an ancient game that Punjabis play, called “Kabaddi”, that requires almost nothing. All that is needed, at minimum, is two people to play the game, on either grass or turf area. No fancy equipment or clothing is needed – just a “kaccha” (shorts). Finally, to set up, just a line is drawn in the middle of play area and the game can start.
There are two types of Kabaddi in India: National style and Circle style (sometimes called Punjab style). National style is a slightly different in that it is played in a box shape boundary and has more than two players for each of the teams. Circle style, as the name implies, is played in a circle shape boundary and can also have more than two players per team. The rules for the game of Kabaddi are fairly simple. The two teams each stand on their half of the division in the middle. A player from one team, called the “raider”, advances to the other in an attempt to tag one of the other players, called the “stoppers” and come back to his side without being stopped. When playing the National style, the raider can tag more than one player, whereas in Circle style, he may only tag one player. The difficulty is that the raider must tag and reach his own side within one breath, usually repeating the words “Kabaddi Kabaddi Kabaddi” to indicate to the referee he is not taking extra breaths. In tournaments now, however, the raider has 30 seconds to make his tag and come back to his own side. If this player is able to cross and reach his own side without being stopped by a ‘stopper’ a point is earned for his team. If, however, the raider is stopped before he reaches his side by crossing the center line, he loses a point which the other team gains. In National style Kabaddi, more than one stopper is able to stop the raider; likewise, a raider can tag as many stoppers before coming back to his own side, earning as many points as possible. Overall, the team with the greatest number of points in the allotted time wins. Circle style Kabaddi is the more popular in the Punjabi community because of its frantic pace and the one-on-one struggle between the raider and the stopper.
As I was growing up in the small village of Buttar, Punjab, a region in Northern India, I used to play badminton on my school team. Initially, it was my cousin Karamjit who introduced me to the game of Kabaddi. He loved the game and was a great player. He would drag me to various tournaments held all over Punjab. I never considered playing Kabaddi myself, but loved to watch the “Clash of the Titans”, as you might say, from the sidelines. Over the years, I have been fortunate to meet many great Kabbadi players and gain a greater love and respect for the game.
Attending Kabaddi tournaments in Punjab, Surrey, or anywhere in the globe is a spectacular and exhilarating experience. At the stadium, everyone’s love and passion for the game is clearly visible. People of all ages sit, stand, or even climb the trees to watch. For Punjabi people, Kabaddi is not just a sports event, but a festival. Spectators and players not only watch, but they interact with each other. There are many little things about Kabaddi that make it unique, one of them being the nicknames of the players. Every Kabaddi player uses a nickname, which can be based on a number of reasons. One way is the player uses his first name and then the name of the village he is from: for example, some famous players include Harjit Bajakhana, Lakha Gazipuriya, and Mangi Baggapind. Other players use small nicknames based on their appearance, skill, and some just have unusual names: for example, some of these famous players include Fiddu, Sonu Jump, Toofan, and Fauji. Introducing players by their full legal names usually goes unrecognized as using nicknames has become tradition in Kabbadi, at the local and international level.
Kabaddi has been in Canada as early as the seventies, when players began to form small clubs and play the game in community parks. Throughout the years, Kabaddi has grown into a professional sport, with dozens of clubs across the nation and players earning thousands of dollars from each tournament in which they participate. In the earliest days of Kabaddi tournaments in Punjab, the winning team would walk away with a new pair of shorts or a box of desi ghee (churned butter). Nowadays, the prizes in tournaments are extensive. At the Kabaddi World Cup of November 2011 in Punjab, India placed first, winning 2 crore rupees (about $375,000), while Canada placed second, winning 1 crore rupees.
Every year in British Columbia, Kabaddi season starts around mid-May and rounds up at the end of August. The season usually begins with the Ross Temple Tournament and concludes with Guru Nanak Sikh Temple Surrey Tournament. In between, various clubs from all over the lower mainland arrange many tournaments. There are also different Kabaddi Federations across Canada, which branch out and arrange tournaments in Calgary, Toronto, and other cities across the country. Recently, a dispute between the various Kabbadi Federations was resolved by combining different federations into three main ones; now, there are three federations, which oversee Western, Eastern and Central Canada.
Performance enhancing drugs, such as steroids, have become a big controversy in Kabaddi. Although many federations do random physical health tests, drug use is still a continuing problem, mainly due to the lack of one universal governing body. For example, if one federation bans a specific player or players, another federation may accept them. Players use these drugs for selection into a team and to enhance their performance during tournaments. Clubs seem to allow this more and more in order to provide great entertainment for fans and thus, attract bigger crowds. In the recent World Cup, more than half of the players in the tournament were banned, along with a few teams being disqualified because too many players were found to be using performance enhancing drugs. Unfortunately, there is no ‘official’ list of players or teams that have been banned.
In Canada, in the past couple of years, many players who have come to participate in tournaments play but never return, speculating the use of drugs during tournaments. Due to this controversy, Kabaddi Season 2012 in Canada has been postponed in order to find solutions. The Canadian government is now taking steps in order to stop ‘foul play’ and preventing the return of many players who normally participate in the tournaments. There have not been any arrivals of players from India as of May 15th, leaving teams with insufficient amount of players; there are also not enough players in Canada to fill these gaps. However, due to the initiative taken by the Kabaddi federations and the government of Canada, the controversy may be resolved by mid-June, allowing some Indian players to return.
Any major sport today has some form of controversy surrounding it. Even the famous soccer World Cup is not away from scandals. Despite all these controversies, the Punjabi community and fans love and respect the game of Kabaddi. From the small village grounds in Punjab to big ticket arenas in Toronto, fans continue to fill the stands. There is a ray of hope among Kabaddi lovers that the sport will soon be in all its glory. Once the issues of drug testing, visas and inclusion of local Kabaddi players are resolved, the integrity of Kabaddi will grow and the sport will be recognized and appreciated by everyone around the world.
Punjabi Sports has been covering Kabaddi on television since 2008, and now will be covered extensively in this magazine. Punjabi Sports and Fitness Magazine will bring detailed stories and in-depth reviews of the tournaments for the upcoming season. We look forward to seeing the players and teams from all around the world.