Simon Kibura – A Kenyan with a love for Kabaddi

"Kabaddi has got into my head," said the Puneri Paltans raider from Kenya. "When I get back home after Pro Kabaddi here, I collect friends from other sports and try to pass on whatever I see here."

Puneri Paltans players David Mosambayi and Simon Kibura (middle) cheer their teammates at the Balewadi complex in Pune   -  Special Arrangement

While the Iranians attached to different Pro Kabaddi League teams have been showing their class, other foreign players have been watching, keen to get their chance to impress on the mat. Kenyan Simon Kibura is one of those stars itching for an opportunity to dash across the line on a raid for Puneri Paltans. He was listed among the substitutes for four home matches in a row but after watching his teammates express themselves on the mat, the Kenyan will be hoping to make his mark in the coming matches.

Simon, a Business Management graduate from Kenyan Institute of Management and a poultry farmer by profession, is among the four foreigners who are part of the Puneri Paltans squad in PKL 2016. His wife Mercy manages the poultry business from home when he is in India for the kabaddi months, attending training camps and travelling with the squad for all its matches.

Simon is also actively popularising the sport in neighbouring African nations. He loves kabaddi and feels that making his friends familiar with the touch and tackle routines of the game, will be the fastest way to form a team.

"Kabaddi has got into my head," said the Puneri Paltans raider. "When I get back home after Pro Kabaddi here, I collect friends from other sports and try to pass on whatever I see here."

Kasarani stadium in Nairobi is the venue for Simon’s spirited training sessions. “My friends are from other sports, some are boxers, others into taekwondo while some others are in football and athletics. I use YouTube videos to show them the typical kabaddi movements,” explained the Kenyan.

“People are getting to know about the sport and becoming familiar with chanting ‘kabaddi, kabaddi’; not just in Kenya but in neighbouring nations as well,” added Simon.

Simon named Uganda, Tanzania, Ethiopia, Namibia and Sudan among the African countries where he has developed kabaddi contacts. “Sudan looks the most promising, simply because there are many Sudanese in Kenya,” he said.

His favourites within the Puneri Paltans squad are captain Manjit Chhillar and Surjeet. Surjeet is admired for impeccable timing during the tackles while Chhillar, PKL’s best all-rounder for the past two seasons, is known for his abilities to shoulder responsibility. “I like watching them. Surjeet’s movements are fast and precise. Manjeet carries the team along well,” explained the muscular Kenyan, who was rated by coach Ashok Shinde as one of two fittest players in the squad, along with fellow countryman David Mosambayi. Thailand’s Khongkham Thongkham and Oman’s Waheed Al Hasani are the other foreigners in the Pune-based team’s roster.

Simon’s first introduction to the sport was through an Indian friend who made arrangements for the Kenyan to reach Punjab for Circle Kabaddi, as the sport is known in northern India. “I reached Bhatinda when the 2012 World Cup Kabaddi was going on and saw Circle Kabaddi for the first time. On getting back to Kenya, my federation president informed me about different versions, including the Mat Kabaddi.”

YouTube was his first instructor; the internet acting as a well to quench his thirst for information. “I went on the Net to get whatever information I could about this new type of kabaddi, which we play now in the Pro Kabaddi League. I looked up YouTube videos to become aware of raids, tackles and scoring system. I tried practising on my own, running up and down hills. I wanted to try out the kabaddi I learnt, but had no one to play with.”

Aware of his growing interest, Simon was handed an invitation received by the Kenyan federation to send players for PKL launch. “I reached Pune four days before Season One started. My time was spent joining the Puneri Paltans in training sessions. Later when the competition started, the YouTube lessons became clear in my mind. I was able to link what was in my mind to action happening on the mat.”

When he went back after PKL Season One, the coaching sessions continued. Chanting ‘kabaddi’ was one of the biggest hurdle. “Kabaddi is a negative word in Swahili. We use it to describe someone who is very fat, so ‘kabaddi, kabaddi, kabaddi’ chanting needed time for newcomers to accept. Now it is ok, though my kabaddi friends in Kenya and neighbouring nations want to see matches. There is no Star Sports there.”

Like a Satnam Singh happy to see folks back home in India watching him on court in the NBA for Sacremento Kings, the Kenyan is trying to arrange tie-ups with Star Sports channel partners there. “People want to see Pro Kabaddi matches,” said the Puneri Paltans raider, for whom sharing the bench at the Balewadi complex for four home games in a row has been a great experience.

Puneri Paltans coach Shinde mentioned about a request from the Kenyan federation to the Indian federation (Amateur Kabaddi Federation of India) for coaches. “Technical knowledge is lacking in Simon and David, otherwise they have everything physically to play kabaddi. African nations will trouble Asian teams in future.”

Simon was an unused substitute during the four back-to-back matches at Balewadi, Pune, but he is ready and eager for a chance to join the raiding party. “Whenever coach feels I can play, I am ready.”

The next Pro Kabaddi League leg will be held in Patna.