The ongoing Pro Kabaddi League (PKL 8) is India’s first and only indoor sporting league to be held since the onset of the coronavirus pandemic. Currently being played within the confines of a bio-bubble at the Sheraton Grand Bengaluru Whitefield hotel, the League has reached the business end with the final scheduled for February 25.

Anupam Goswami, CEO of Mashal Sports and the PKL’s League commissioner, feels the competition's functioning has been “path-breaking” for all contact and indoor sports. The PKL began on December 22 and has had its share of COVID cases, but the league has motored on after rescheduling a few games.

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“The safety aspect has been paramount. When you look at the scale of the exercise…there are 230-odd athletes and over 900 people in the bubble. Our concern for the emphasis on safety is not only there as an ethical commitment but also to ensure the continuity and quality of competition. The comprehensiveness of a COVID protocol is an absolute first and a role model for any contact or indoor sport which wanted to be conducted in this scenario,” Anupam said.

“What we did for COVID safety was path-breaking. As part of that, it meant that at a league-level we had to start learning and being informed on any relevant government guidelines and state-level guidelines not only with a view of having absolute compliance but maximum implementation,” he added.

While a few teams were infected with the coronavirus, the league’s swift protocols prevented an outbreak. Any player or staff who tested positive was evacuated from the bubble and isolated at a dedicated hospital.

“We also took into account the leakage or seepage [of cases]. Every sports league which has been conducted has had incidents of COVID cases. What happens after COVID cases are detected, that mitigation has been very strong. We have reserved isolation facilities in hospitals. These backup facilities have to work well because people who are going there should come back fit to play.

“In fact, teams have told us that their athletes are training harder when they’ve gone into isolation because they’re eager to get back. We have had short interruptions, but every team is still playing. We’ve had a match every single day.”

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The 12 teams began their pre-season camps in a bio-bubble back in October and moved to Bengaluru in the first week of December. While the teams did have a two-month pre-season camp, there were concerns over whether the quality of competition would take a hit. The league, after all, was coming back after two years. Most players trained in their homes and played a few local tournaments, but that was it.

“The level of competition has been simply fantastic. There has been a significant rise of close to 9-10% more points being scored in a match. The score difference between teams has considerably reduced and the percentage of raid points scored has also increased. Another aspect is the number of ties. Theoretically, you could have ties between modest teams too but the tied matches have gone up even as the number of points scored has increased.”

The PKL’s play-off stage is to get underway in the third week of February, with the top six teams battling it out for a shot at the title. Three-time champion Patna Pirates became the first team to advance to the knockouts with four games to spare, while a nine-way combat is on for the five remaining spots. The top two teams will directly progress to the semifinals, while the next four teams will play in the eliminators and move to the last-four stage.