Kabaddi has been a medal sport at the Asian Games since Beijing 1990, and professional leagues such as Pro Kabaddi have led to positive changes in the form of weight restrictions (maximum 85kg for men and 75kg for women) and official weigh-ins before competitions. Earlier, players were built like wrestlers.
Now, lithe, powerful bodies leap out of tackles and dash across the mat to push rivals over the sideline. Athleticism when raiding merged with catching skills make for gripping viewing on television.
India is the defending champion in both the men’s and women’s categories, but the country’s dominance is now under threat from the powerful Iranians and the tricky South Koreans in the men’s category and the compact Thai women. After seven gold medals, winning an eighth may be tougher than expected for the Indian men, while the women’s competition is also heating.
Pro Kabaddi has been attracting internationals from Iran, South Korea as well as other Asian nations, and this merger of cultures has ensured a healthy respect for India from its rivals and vice-versa. Pakistan, with whom the champions have a traditional and formidable rivalry in the men’s event, can pull off a surprise.
Captained by Ajay Thakur, India’s men team for Jakarta is packed with talent in defence as well as offence. Pro Kabaddi match-winners Deepak Hooda, Pradeep Narwal, Girish Ernak and Mohit Chillar have built a reputation for being big-match players. Away from the professional league, wearing the national colours is motivating enough to deliver points and wins.
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