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PKL 10: Kabaddi in Olympics? More international tournaments need of the hour, says Fazel Atrachali

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PKL 10: Kabaddi in Olympics? More international tournaments need of the hour, says Fazel Atrachali


Breaking, sport climbing, skateboarding, surfing. Baseball/softball, cricket, flag football, lacrosse, and squash. These are the sports that would be making their Olympic debut or returning to the Games in the next two editions of the biggest carnival of sport.

The International Olympic Committee (IOC) has been keen on introducing “inclusive, gender-balanced and youth-centred” sports in the upcoming editions of the Olympic Games to make sure they capture newer audiences.

With Prime Minister Narendra Modi making the country’s intentions known that India would be preparing to bid for the 2036 Games, it would be interesting to see the next batch of sports that would join the Games. While the final decision ultimately rests with the IOC regarding which sports are added to the Olympic program, the host nation/city can suggest or propose sports they believe would resonate with their local audience, align with the vision of the Games, or reflect the cultural and sporting interests of their region.

In such a scenario, hardcore enthusiasts of Kabaddi, a sport that is believed to have originated in ancient India, would be dreaming of the sport making it to the Olympics. However, it seems the route to an Olympic ticket for the entertaining contact sport is not straightforward.

Yes, the viewership of Pro Kabaddi League, one of the most professional Kabaddi leagues run in the world, has been steadily increasing. In 2022, the league run in India saw a 17 percent increase in television and digital viewership. But that alone is not going to be enough. A collective effort from the stakeholders of the sport is the need of the hour.

Iranian legend Fazel Atrachali, who has become a household name in India thanks to Pro Kabaddi League and his heroics in the Asian Games over the years, said Kabaddi’s ability to draw in viewers makes it a good contender to become an Olympic sport. However, the veteran, a 4-time Asian Games medalist, calls for more international tournaments.

Speaking to India Today in New Delhi after he was announced as the captain of Adani’s Gujarat Giants for PKL 10, Fazel Atrachali spoke about the need for the global body of Kabaddi to do more when it comes to promoting the sport beyond its traditional strongholds – India, Pakistan, and Iran.

Shedding light on how Kabaddi matches drew audiences in Hangzhou during the Asian Games earlier in the year, Fazel Atrachali talked up the appeal of the high-octane contact sport.

“Yeah, I think Kabaddi can be part of the Olympics because the sport is very interesting for the people. When we were at the Asian Games, people from other countries came and watched Kabaddi. For example, wrestling in Iran is very famous, when we have a wrestling tournament, the stadiums are full. But in the Asian Games. But Kabaddi, people came to watch us there,” Atrachali said.

‘1 WORLD CUP IN MY 14-YEAR CAREER’

Blast from the past: Fazel Atrachali in action at the 2010 Asian Games (AFP Photo)

Atrachali did not mince words when he rued the fact that he has played only one World Cup (in 2016) in his 14-year-long career and that most of the players did not know what to do for the majority of the season before the PKL came in with 3 months of assured action for a top-level player.

The men’s Kabaddi World Cup organised by the International Kabaddi Federation (IKF), which was founded in 2004 in a bid to give the sport a global push, has been held only in 2004, 2007, and 2016. At the Asian Games, men’s Kabaddi has been played in every edition since 1990 and women’s Kabaddi since 2010.

“But what’s the problem now in Kabaddi? We don’t have a lot of international tournaments. 2016, we had a World Cup, it was very good. Some teams came from South Africa, Kenya, and some teams from Europe, Australia came. Well, after that nothing. If we want Kabaddi to become part of the Olympics, we need to have more tournaments like the World Cup. If only 6-7 countries are playing Kabaddi, how can it become part of the Olympics?” Atrachali said.

“I have been playing for the national team for 14 years, I have played only one World Cup. I was in 4 Asian Games, 1 World Cup, and nothing more. How can Kabaddi be part of the Olympics? How can other countries from Europe of America play Kabaddi? They are now playing for Kabaddi. But if you have tournaments for them, it will become more popular. For now, Kabaddi is a craze only in India, Iran and Pakistan,” he added.

IRAN LOVES THE PKL

In Iran, the craze for PKL among budding kabaddi players is beyond believable.

“I think not 90 percent, 99 percent of Iranian players want to be playing in the PKL. They are working hard for it because PKL is a professional tournament. Yes, the quadrennial Asian Games are there. But every year, in the PKL, we get close to 100 days of action. And that’s very good for the players.

“I am a Kabaddi player, I am playing Asian Games for a week. After that what? I don’t know what to do, but when you are in PKL, for 3 months, you are busy with what you love.

“You are playing with a lot of stars. You don’t have such a league in Iran. Yes, we play in leagues, but here you have the opportunity to play with superstars like Pawan (Sehrawat) and Naveen (Kumar). Iranian players want to play with them. They are legends of Kabaddi, so we want to be part of the PKL,” he added.

While there isn’t a strict numerical requirement for the number of countries needed to have official bodies for a sport to become an Olympic event, widespread global participation and representation from various regions significantly strengthen a sport’s case for inclusion and Kabaddi needs to a lot more, feels the Iranian legend.

HOW TO BECOME A SUPERSTAR?

It’s the Pro Kabaddi League where Fazel Atrachali spends time with his first love. Having been given the captain’s armband at Gujarat Giants and having reunited with one of his favourite coaches, and former India captain, Ram Mehar Singh, Attrachali is looking forward to end the title wait of the Giants.

What does it take to become a superstar of the sport?

“I didn’t want to be a superstar in the PKL. I wanted to be known as a good player. If you are good at what you are doing, everything will come to you, money will come to you, and people will come to you. I always say ‘don’t think too much about money, don’t think too much about becoming a star’. Just enjoy what you are doing. You have to love Kabaddi, if you love the sport, you will love your journey. Everything else is a byproduct then,” he signed off.

Published By:

Akshay Ramesh

Published On:

Nov 24, 2023

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