Kabaddi takes centre stage for Pakistan and India
LAHORE, Pakistan (AFP) –
As long-frozen cricket ties between Pakistan and India thaw, the two arch-rivals are also hoping this weekend’s Kabaddi Asia Cup can bring the countries closer together.
The traditional team sport, in which players try to tag opponents while holding their breath, is hugely popular in the Punjab provinces of both countries and is putting down roots among expatriates in other Asian countries.
Teams from Iran, Nepal, Thailand, Sri Lanka, Afghanistan and Indonesia are all taking part in the tournament in Lahore, but it is old foes India and Pakistan who are expected to fight it out for the $15,500 winner’s purse in Monday’s final.
For Indian team manager Gurmail Singh, the harmony and brotherly spirit of kabaddi is what matters most.
“We are here as ambassadors of India,” said Gurmail as his team were given a rousing welcome at the Wagah border crossing.
“We believe we can cash in on the popularity of kabaddi to bring the people of India and Pakistan closer.”
Most sporting relations between Pakistan and India were suspended after the 2008 terror attacks on Mumbai, which left 166 people dead and which Delhi blamed on extremists from across the border.
But while a resumption of bilateral cricket ties was only agreed in July, kabaddi was never a victim of the freeze, with Pakistan visiting India to compete in the last two World Cups in 2010 and 2011 and Indian participation in the current event never in doubt.
Pakistan Kabaddi Federation secretary Rana Sarwar said the Asia Cup had proved “auspicious” for cricket as the itinerary for Pakistan’s tour to India — their first since 2007 — was announced on Thursday, the day the tournament began.
“People of India and Pakistan want sport to go on, so it will go on and we hope that kabaddi will always take the lead,” said Sarwar.
Kabaddi, pioneered in India in early 1900s, is played on a rectangular court with each team occupying one half.
The teams take turns to send a “raider” into the opposition half who tries to tackle opponents and return to his own side — while holding his breath and chanting “kabaddi”.
The sport got regional recognition in 1985 when it was included in the South Asian Federation Games in Dhaka, before getting a major breakthrough in the 1990 Asian Games in Beijing.
India staged the inaugural Kabaddi World Cup in 2004 and have won all four events, the last in 2011. They also won the inaugural Asia Cup held in Iran last year, beating Pakistan.
“The traditional sports are full of history and when they are staged people throng the stadium,” said Pakistan team captain Musharraf Javed. “I hope kabaddi lives on and acts as buffer between India and Pakistan.”