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The untapped potential

­Pakistan have done well in kabaddi over the years but are still far from realising their true potential in a sport that enjoys great following in the country’s heartland of Punjab

The untapped potential

Kabaddi is one of the sports in which Pakistan has a lot of potential. If it is handled properly it can grow beyond imagination. The sport is much popular in Punjab as almost hundred percent of the players of the national team come from this province.

India and Pakistan are considered the powerhouses of kabaddi. India, because of its richest kabaddi culture, has got an upper hand in terms of performance in international circuit and the business-oriented approach of their kabaddi high-ups.

Pakistan, on the other hand, has started facing a lot of problem as some other countries like Iran, Bangladesh and a few nations from Europe and America have remarkably developed in the sport.

If Pakistan did not focus on the development of the sport, reaching the victory stand would become difficult for them after a few years.

Iran are the biggest threat to both India and Pakistan because of their strong sporting culture which has seen them making great strides in martial arts, football, volleyball and weightlifting. After having missed the 2007 and the 2008 World Cups in India because of the political tension between the two countries, Pakistan made their debut in 2010 and ended as the runners-up. They lost to India in the final 24-58. In 2011, Pakistan picked bronze, in 2012 silver, and then silver in the 2014 edition which ended with a controversy when after losing the decider 45-42 Pakistan’s captain Shafiq Chishti alleged that they had been cheated by the umpires.

In 2012 edition, Pakistan had failed to impress as they lost their play-off for the third place against Denmark 33-34.

Since kabaddi’s insertion in the Asian Games in 1990, Pakistan have claimed two silver and four bronze medals.

India have won all the seven Asian Games gold medals. Bangladesh have clinched three silver medals. In the four editions of the Asian Beach Games from 2008 to 2014, Pakistan have grabbed four silver medals.

In the South Asian Games from 1985 to 2010, Pakistan grabbed one gold (1993), five silver and three bronze medals.

So we can see that Pakistan have had little consistency in their performance.

The only wonders which Pakistan have shown in the recent past is that they beat India in the Asian Championship final in Lahore in 2012 before edging their rivals in the Sharjah League last year.

The Pro Kabaddi League started by India last year should compel Pakistan Kabaddi Federation (PKF) to think about holding such a league.

It would be difficult for Pakistan to stage a league equal in extravagance to India’s, but the authorities must make an effort to arrange a mini-league.

There are chances that some business tycoons of Punjab may purchase franchises if they are involved in the business and properly instructed.

Because of the security issues at home the PKF should think about staging it in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) where it would be very successful under lights as a large number of fans from India, Pakistan and Iran live in Dubai.

There is a big chance that the organisers would get ample sponsorship for such an event and generate huge money by selling broadcast rights.

Being a seasoned politician with strong international contacts, PKF’s chief Chaudhry Shujaat Hussain can play a vital role in executing such a project.

PKF secretary Mohammad Sarwar is also the secretary of the Asian Kabaddi Federation (AKF) and can play a lead role in this direction.

The PKF should also try to invite foreign players to play in the national league, which will create hype and attract bigger crowds. Only a few government departments, including the armed forces, have kabaddi teams. The PKF should try to persuade some strong business enterprises to own kabaddi teams so that the opportunities for the players could be increased.

In spite of the manifold problems, Pakistan’s key kabaddi players have been earning substantial money. Besides having permanent jobs in their departments, they also play professional leagues in England (in summer), France and now the Indian Pro League.

In English counties, Pakistan’s kabaddi players can earn up to Rs800,000 a season and have other benefits, too.

The 16 clubs who usually play in English kabaddi league are: Punjab United Wolverhampton, Erith and Woolwich, Gravesend, Barking, GNG Smethwick, Coventry, Hounslow, Medway, Swansea, Walsall, Derby, Hull, Leicester, Sikh Temple Wolverhampton, Slough and Southall.

Canada had also been a big market for the kabaddi players of both Pakistan and India, but for the last few years the Pakistani players have been unable to get Canadian visas due to strict rules.

The PKF must also expand the competitions to Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Sindh and Balochistan.

A couple of years ago, Pakistan Wrestling Federation (PWF) held a competition here at the Asghar Ali Shah Stadium and it was a big success in spite of the fact that the port city is not strong in that area.

The PKF should also try to stage kabaddi events in Karachi, which is an ideal place for beach kabaddi. Even international beach events could be organised befittingly in the metropolis.

In Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, the craze of kabaddi is so much that a few years ago a tournament staged at the Bannu Stadium attracted a huge crowd.

Currently it is difficult to hold a big event in KP for security reasons but small competitions could still be staged in that province which would keep the people of that area in touch with their traditional sport.

Pakistan also has a lot of potential in women’s kabaddi. The PKF wanted to launch women kabaddi a few years ago but due to threats from the Taliban they did not go for that.

In 2013, Sports Board Punjab (SBP) managed to send a women’s team for Kabaddi World Cup in India. But they failed to advance beyond the group stage on their debut. But last year in their second World Cup in India Pakistani women were able to win bronze medal, a performance which has given hopes of progress in women’s kabaddi.

Besides the Pakistan Sports Complex, Islamabad, the PKF is lucky to have a strong training centre in Kakul, Abbottabad, where all facilities are given to the players for preparation of international assignments.

Alam Zeb Safi

Alam Zeb copy
The writer is a sports reporter at The News International. He may be reached at [email protected]

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