Desi game, global players


Cheering home crowds, tattooed players and Spanish swear words. Jonathan Selvaraj reports on the carnival that is the third kabaddi World Cup tournament as it travels through Punjab

For most of the year, the ground behind the Government Senior Secondary School at Doda village in Muktsar district of Punjab is the place where children congregate rather sleepily for their morning assembly. On December 5, however, as the children gather in the morning, the excitement is palpable. They are here to watch a World Cup match. The game may be circle-style kabaddi, a game played in all parts of rural Punjab, but no effort is being spared to give it the trappings of a big-ticket tournament.

On Wednesday, about 15,000 people have thronged the ground, making their way past mustard and ripening cotton fields. Hundreds of security personnel stand guard for miles. Every few hundred yards, there is a billboard depicting Chief Minister Parkash Singh Badal, his son and Deputy Chief Minister Sukhbir Badal and other politicians as the promoters behind the third kabaddi World Cup.

Unmindful of the policemen, enterprising food vendors have set up stalls. In the ground, a man dressed up as the Game's mascot—an eagle called Jaanbaz—works the crowd. Once play begins, two giant screens on either end of the pitch telecast images of the action being captured by many TV cameras, including one mounted on a boom crane that sweeps in an arc over the field of play. A local TV channel telecasts matches live. The broadcast includes pre-show, half-time and post-match discussions featuring men in coats and ties.

The game everyone is here to see is a combination of tag and wrestling. Each team of 10 players comprises four stoppers and four raiders. Each group of stoppers occupies one half of a circle roughly 44 metre in diameter. The centre line is called palla—a space about three-metre wide demarcated by sandbags—through which the raider comes, touches a stopper and then makes his way out into his own half through the same gate within 30 seconds to earn a point. A stopper has to prevent the raider from doing so. Anything short of punching and eye-gouging seems to be fair play. The game is different from the national-style kabaddi played at the Asian Games. That format has a rectangular playing area and seven stoppers all of whom go after a raider.

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