Why Aren’t We Cheering for Team India at the Ongoing “Kabaddi World Cup”?

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Why Aren’t We Cheering for Team India at the Ongoing “Kabaddi World Cup”?

Illustration: Robin Chakraborty

Outside of cricket, India’s success in the world of team sports is somewhere between modest and non-existent. So you would think that whenever a sports team representing India manages to do well on an international platform, the country will celebrate the success of its athletes. It’s a fair assumption to make, but also, an incorrect one, as the tale of the Indian kabaddi squad at an ongoing international tournament in Pakistan shows. The players have made it to the semi-finals of the 10-nation tournament, but instead of fanfare, their accomplishments have been greeted with either apathy or outrage. What gives?

Kabaddi is both a homegrown sport, as well as a hot television property with the Pro Kabaddi League. So why aren’t more Indians gung-ho at the prospect of the boys bringing home a trophy? Well, for starters, it could be because the tournament is taking place in Pakistan. While there’s a long list of so-called “anti-nationals” who should be sent to Pakistan, as far as sportspersons are concerned, our neighbouring country is a no-go zone. Even the lure of cricket is not strong enough to overcome the political tension, as there are presently doubts over whether Pakistan will be able to host the 2020 edition of the Asia Cup if India is unable to attend. No official Indian sports body will sanction a trip across the border, which makes the team representing India in the ongoing Kabaddi World Cup in Pakistan an outlaw squad.

The Indian contingent at the Kabaddi World Cup comprises 60 members. However, none of them have received approval from either the Amateur Kabaddi Federation of India (AKFI) or the Indian Olympic Association (IOA). Given the unsanctioned nature of their participation in this tournament, these players cannot technically claim to represent India. Even Union Sports Minister Kiren Rijiju has stated that no permission was given to any Indian players to attend the event.

However, the team claim to be at the tournament in an individual capacity. Speaking to news agency IANS, the team coach Harpreet Singh Baba said, “Since we are all here in an individual capacity, the approval of the Ministry of External Affairs or Indian Olympic Association was not required… If we were of doubtful integrity, the Indian immigration authorities wouldn’t have allowed us. We told them we are going to participate in the World Cup.”

Regardless of whose blessings they received, a team of Indian players travelled to Pakistan and took part in the tournament.

Regardless of whose blessings they received, a team of Indian players travelled to Pakistan and took part in the tournament. There is no use crying over spilt milk and stamped passports. They came, they saw, they conquered. The team has made it to the semi-finals, and could be considered favourites, given how popular kabaddi is in India compared to other participating countries like Germany and Sierra Leone. The team are almost champions, so shouldn’t they be feted whether or not they were originally supposed to participate?

Well, perhaps if the tournament they were participating in had a shade more legitimacy than their own involvement in it, there would have been more noise. But as it turns out, this “Kabaddi World Cup” being organised by the Pakistan Kabaddi Federation is not recognised by World Kabaddi Federation (not to be confused with the International Kabaddi Federation). This tournament’s lofty nomenclature as a World Cup is like Salman Khan calling himself a virgin – everyone knows that’s not true, and the people who go along with it are just doing so to be polite. The World Kabaddi Federation has said that “no institution will officially recognise the certificates” issued by the organisers of this tournament.

In light of all these revelations, a clearer picture emerges of why this stellar performance by an Indian team has flown under the radar. But despite all the shady dealings, spare a thought for the unfortunate players, who could soon become champions of the world, but also victims of circumstance at the same time. There’s a lot of red-tape obfuscating the action that takes place on the court. These athletes have put in hard work to beat the competition and emerge as likely winners of the tournament. That their perseverance and determination is sidelined by controversy just isn’t fair play.

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