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Kabaddi is now cool sport, thanks to Bollywood, corporates

Kabaddi is now cool sport, thanks to Bollywood, corporates

New Delhi: Kabaddi, an indigenous contact sport in India, is witnessing a resurgence, thanks to big-time commercial sponsorship and prime-time TV patronage.

Riding on the IPL-style hockey and football leagues, kabaddi has come up with not one but two leagues to complement each other. For long kabaddi has been dismissed as an indigenous rustic sport which was not strictly fit to be an Olympic discipline. India had to fight hard to keep it as an Asian Games sport and won all the seven gold medals ever since it was introduced in 1990. All of a sudden corporate honchos as well as Bollywood celebrities see it as a sport tailor-made for prime time TV. Even amazing is that many think kabaddi can challenge the shortest format of cricket.

The Pro League has more or less taken on the lines of the IPL, naming franchises after cities to lure brand loyalty, whereas the World League is a pure diaspora sport for the expat Indians in England, US, UAE and Canada and it is a huge affair. Abhishek Bachchan, UTV founder Ronnie Screwwaala and Retail Moghul Kishore Biyani have bought franchise rights for the Pro-Kabaddi League while Akshay Kumar, Sonakshi Sinha and rapper Yo Yo Honey Singh have bought teams in the World League.

The eight-team Pro League opened to a packed crowd in Mumbai July 26 and the World League is scheduled to start Aug 9 with a power packed opening ceremony at London's O2 Arena by Akshay Kumar. What has baffled sports enthusiasts is the fact that two leagues are vying for TV space that too in a sport, which is not so popular in urban India. The genesis of the World League is in the success of the Kabaddi World Cup, the brainchild of Punjab Deputy Chief Minister Sukhbir Singh Badal.

Charu Sharma, the man behind the Pro-League, said it was while commentating for the sport in the 2006 and the 2010 Asian Games that the idea struck him. Charu's Mashal Sports, which is also promoted by Anand Mahindra, is organising the Pro-League. "It was while commentating during the 2006 Asian Games in Doha that I realised the potential of the sport. Then it was in 2010 Asian Games the idea struck me why not start a league," Charu told IANS.

The two formats are completely different. The Pro-League follows the international style while World League is played according to the desi Punjabi style. Badal and former hockey captain Pargat Singh is the main force behind the World Kabaddi League. They want to take the sport to the global stage and want to cash in on the huge Indian diaspora in US, England, UAE and Canada.

"Honestly, it was a conscious decision to rope in Bollywood stars to own teams. It helps in attracting the eyeballs. At the end the sport stands to gain from it. But it was not easy convincing them," said Raman Raheja, chief executive of World Kabaddi League. The team owners are guaranteed a fair share of TV revenues from host broadcasters Sony, for World Kabaddi, and Star, for Pro-Kabaddi.

"The World Kabaddi League is targetting the Indian diaspora overseas. We are expecting a good response from the ticket sales and TV revenues. We are also trying to get a Pakistani broadcaster since some prominent Pakistani players would also feature in the league," said Raheja.

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