From Mud to Mat: How the Pro Kabaddi League transformed a sport!

Over the last few years, the indigenous sport of Kabaddi has witnessed phenomenal growth. Here’s how the Pro Kabaddi League transformed a sport.

Former President A.P.J.Abdul Kalam presenting Dronacharya Award to E. Prasad Rao for Kabaddi.

Former President A.P.J.Abdul Kalam presenting Dronacharya Award to E. Prasad Rao for Kabaddi. | Photo Credit: RAJEEV BHATT

Over the last few years, the indigenous sport of Kabaddi has witnessed phenomenal growth. Here’s how the Pro Kabaddi League transformed a sport.

Over the last few years, the indigenous sport of Kabaddi has witnessed phenomenal growth. For a sport that has been around for generations, it had lost out on the popularity that it deserved. But that story changed with the advent of the Pro Kabaddi League – the echoes of ‘kabaddi kabaddi’ spread across the masses in India and abroad, and the sport announced its evolution through a tournament played on slick, lit-up mats, showcased through fancy lighting and played on primetime slots. What was once forgotten became aspirational and thus kabaddi made its journey from the mud to the mat.

During the Asian Games in 2006 when I was the Operational Competition Manager for kabaddi, I met Charu Sharma, and together we decided that the sport had all the qualities to make it big – it was athletic, it was fast, and it had moments of thrill and excitement aplenty. After a period of extensive research and experimenting with a number of different rules in state competitions and at Indian camps, the idea of the league started to take shape. The exciting Super Tackles and Do-or-Die Raids that you see today were all tested several times before we implemented them in the tournament. 

However, just conducting the tournament with top players has never been our only endeavour as a league. Finding new talent is the only way to sustainably grow the sport. This effort and long-term vision has led to players emerging from non-traditional centres, and new prospects are coming up from the northeast as well. This is the result of our team conducting extensive talent search programmes across all states in India and identifying players with potential. The most talented players are brought to one location for an opportunity to train with the best national-level coaches. After multiple training sessions, the top players from the talent pool are then included in the PKL Player Auction as young talent. 

Today, kabaddi players don’t just come from the major centres such as Haryana and Tamil Nadu anymore. In this year’s Player Auction, we witnessed players from Goa, Jammu & Kashmir and Puducherry being picked and this is what warms my heart the most. When we set out to expand the sport, we had a goal of acquainting kabaddi with people from all parts of the country. 

Many schools across India have also started adding kabaddi to their sports curriculum. It is a sport that needs no equipment. It can be played anywhere and is being played across villages and even at local festivals. I recently got a call from a principal in Visakhapatnam saying that the school wants to start having Kabaddi as part of its sports program. When I visited the school, I saw that mats had been fixed in a classroom and they had put up the lines, “Ready for a kabaddi game!”. They even named the classroom – “Pro Kabaddi Room”. Can you believe it? This is where the children can now start dreaming of Kabaddi as a career option when they see young players doing so well in the league. Interestingly, engineering and medical colleges are also taking part in kabaddi tournaments.

It is for this immense contribution of a league to a sport, that I would like to celebrate the growth of kabaddi in India and beyond on the occasion of this National Sports Day!

(Mr E Prasad Rao also known as Kabaddi Rao is the Technical Director of Pro Kabaddi League. He is also the most successful kabaddi coach in India. Under his coaching, the Indian Kabaddi Men’s Team won Gold Medals in all the Asian Games, Asian Championships & International Tournaments for over two decades from 1982 to 2002. He is also the recipient of the first Dronacharya Award in Kabaddi recognising his outstanding Kabaddi coaching.)

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