Preview: In a nation now obsessed with franchise-based leagues since the inauguration of the Indian Premier League (IPL) changed the way sports were presented to fans, the success of the Pro Kabaddi League remains a heartwarming tale. Kabaddi has always been a popular one in India, especially in the rural areas of the country. But as is evidenced by the ever-growing TV ratings for the PKL, it has become more than just a sport enjoyed by certain sections of society. The fact that it is now a commercially viable tournament – something which can’t be said about many of the leagues that tried to imitate the business model of the IPL – can be seen by the massive sums of money dished out to players during the auction earlier this year. However, this year’s league will begin in the backdrop of a disappointing show for the men’s and women’s national teams in the Asian Games 2018 and a stand-off between two warring factions.
India’s disappointing show at the Asian Games this year in both the men’s and women’s Kabaddi events raised many questions among fans and journalists alike. As the country began to digest the losses, charges of corruption and nepotism within the Amateur Kabaddi Federation of India (AKFI) reached the Delhi High Court. This eventually led to the court mandating two trail matches of sorts for both the men and women – with one team including players ignored by the AKFI and the other team consisting of the players who represented India in the Asian Games. The game eventually did not happen, leading to what can best be described as a farcical situation that saw two teams backed by rival body the New Kabaddi Federation of India (NKFI) come fully kitted up for a match against the current teams that, for whatever reason, didn’t take place. To make matters even more confusing, the NKFI then announced the launch of a new league – the Indo International Premier Kabaddi League (IIPKL), which will begin next year.
While a lot can be said about how having two federations at loggerheads with one another running two different leagues can lead to even more confusion, for now let’s just marvel at the fact that two such leagues can even exist – especially since many doubted that the PKL itself would be the smashing success it is today. The PKL 2018 auction saw six players – five Indians and one Iranian – get sold for one crore rupees or more. The most expensive player of the lot – Monu Goyat of the Haryana Steelers – became the highest paid non-cricket sportsman in India after he went for a whopping 1.51 crores. The increased financial stability of the players is undoubtedly a good thing, especially in a country like India where the biggest source of income for players comes in the form of government rewards and new jobs/promotions after winning medals in multi-nation events.
However, one cannot deny the role that the league played in the development of the sport in Iran, the nation that won the Asian Games gold in both men’s and women’s events. The presence of players from South Korea in the PKL – another country the Indian men lost to in the Games during the group stage at the Games – is further proof that the league has helped strengthen players from other nations. The fact that India had won Kabaddi gold in every edition of the Asian Games prior to 2018 might have led to some fans – and maybe even a few players – believing that more finishes atop the podium this year were all but formalities. It’s also worth adding that the development of the sport in other countries isn’t a bad thing. However, the poor showing at the Games should act as a warning to Indian players that they are no longer the undisputed top dogs in kabaddi. The PKL isn’t going to be the solution to the problems that plague the sport in India at present; that is something that will require a proper clean-up job at the very top of the game. However, it will remain a good place for the players to play in front of adoring crowds, earn some good money and further sharpen their skills in a bid to go on to claim more national glory in the future.
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