Big boost for the game

V. V. SUBRAHMANYAM

The Services (men) and the Railways (below) teams which won the championship.-K. RAMESH BABU

THE 53rd Senior National Kabaddi championship for men and women at Uppal Municipal Stadium (Hyderabad) seemed to be an event with a big difference. It seemed as if size mattered in every aspect. Sixty-one teams (both men and women) took part in the meet. The prize money was one of the biggest ever for a non-cricketing event. The winners — Services (men) and Railways (women) — were richer by Rs.50, 000 each and the runners-up — BSNL (men) and Maharashtra (women) — took home Rs.25, 000.

Perhaps for the first time in recent memory, every team went home with some prize money. Every round winner was presented Rs.3000 and the loser Rs.2000. A mind-boggling sum of Rs.25 lakhs was earmarked as prize money by the organisers. The Hyderabad Kabaddi Association president Kasani Gnaneshwar Mudhiraj, who is also the Ranga Reddy Zilla Parishad Chairman, contributed all the prize money. The only assistance he got was from two nearby schools to provide accommodation for the participants. There were no sponsors.

The competition was a mind-boggling affair. Every day saw about 40 matches being scheduled on the eight courts sprawled across the complex. Some of these matches were contested under floodlights and ran late into the night. To the delight of the hosts, there was a terrific response from the huge crowds.

Janardhan Singh Gehlot, president of The Amateur Kabaddi Federation of India, was quick to point out that there is no guarantee that a similar amount of prize money would be there for the next edition of the Nationals and that kabaddi is still very much an amateur sport. "This Hyderabad edition is an exception because of the initiative of Kasani Gnaneshwar," he added.

K. RAMESH BABU

But, there were aberrations too. Most national federations often talk of an acute lack of sponsors for their tournaments. But the argument does not hold much water considering that they do not stick to a schedule and do not keep media deadlines in mind. Ultimately, a sponsor of any event will be keen to get back something by way of publicity from the media. But in their over enthusiasm, the organisers simply forget this.

When the lights went off during the men's semifinal between BSNL and the defending champions Railways, the officials stuck to the technical rule that states any interruption of more than 20 minutes during a match entails a replay match and not continuation of the match from the point of the disruption. Consequently, this semi-final ended up being replayed and went on well past the normal deadline. Perhaps, the organisers were only concerned about the crowds that had gathered at the venue for the match. Maybe they could have been a little more practical by choosing, instead, to shift the match to the adjacent court where the lights were on. But that was not to be.

Then there was the ridiculous case of a third-place match that ended up being scheduled between the women's final and the men's final, which effectively meant the latter was extended close to midnight. Then there was the sight of Gehlot urging the finalists to call off play with Services leading 29-13 minutes after the break. But BSNL's Busan Asian Games gold medallist Dinesh Kumar pointed out that some of his key players were injured and that might prevent them from continuing. As a result, the president ensured that there was no further play. Evidently, it is only when the bigwigs feel the time pressure that the heat is truly on. Otherwise the organisers are not in the least bothered about scheduling matches late into the night.

For the record, the Railways women retained the title for the 22nd year by edging out a fighting Maharashtra 34-33, while Services emerged champions in the men's section when BSNL conceded the final trailing 13-29 minutes after the break. In women's section, Abhilasha Matre of Maharashtra was adjudged the `best player', Bhakti Kulkarni of Railways (the `best raider') and Poonam Rawat of Hyderabad (the `best catcher').

Other results: Semi-finals: Men: BSNL bt Punjab 29-11; Services bt Railways 21-11.

Railways' Bhakti Kulkarni (third from left) was the cynosure. Here she is seen in action in the final against Maharashtra.-

3rd place: Railways bt Punjab 29-9.

Women: Semi-finals: Railways bt Hyderabad 42-16; Maharashtra bt Haryana 46-23. 3rd place: Hyderabad bt Haryana 36-24.