Republished from www.gosports.com.my
Football may be the most popular sport in Iraq, but for Ali Sari Sabr, kabaddi is his sport of choice.
The 24-year-old, who captained the Iraqi national side to the silver medal at the 2019 World Cup Kabaddi in Melaka, Malaysia, hopes to see kabaddi at the same pedestal as football in his country.
“We want kabaddi to be one of the most popular sports in Iraq,” said Ali Sari, who hails from Diwaniyah.
Despite kabaddi’s lower profile at the international level, Ali Sari is a popular figure among the kabaddi playing nations. The Physical and Sports Education graduate from University of Al-Qadisiyah was picked as the Best Raider at the World Cup. The Best Raider is equivalent to the Golden Boots award in football.
Ali Sari was among the first core players, who were selected by the Iraqi Kabaddi Federation (IKF) in 2015 to elevate Iraqi Kabaddi at the international arena.
“I started playing kabaddi as a junior with the Al-Diwaniyah Sports Club and then moved to Nippur Sports Club,” said Ali Sari.
He went on to represent the Middle Oil Clubs and Aisen Club in national competitions.
“Kabaddi was introduced in Iraq only in 2014 by my first coach, Mr. Hameed Al-Hamdani. You can say that I was one of the first fans of the game,” said Ali Sari, who was one of the handful of players selected for the Indo International Premier Kabaddi League (IIPKL) in India last year.
While most youth in Iraq are still entranced by football, Ali Sari said that his mind is entrenched with kabaddi.
Kabaddi is a tag game that originated in India some 5,000 years ago and has seen massive resurgence in many parts of the world in recent years.
“From the time I first stepped into a kabaddi court, I was looking forward to represent the Iraqi national team. As I was part of the nucleus of first Iraqi training squad, it helped me to make the transition quickly,” said Ali Sari.
His first international exposure was at the 2016 Asian Youth Championship in Uromia, Iran. It was also Iraq’s first international tournament in the sport.
“The Asian Youth Championship will always be dear to me. It was my first international in a foreign country and winning the bronze medal turned out to me a memorable experience,” said Ali Sari.
Ali Sari, who was elevated as senior team captain, also ranked his Best Raider award at the World Cup as another momentous event in his kabaddi career.
He added that the support from his family has been crucial in him not only in taking up the sport but also to work hard in excelling in it.
“My family have been a great support to me, especially my mother, who always prayed for my success whenever I play,” said Ali Sari.
He also singled out Iraqi kabaddi officials Hameed Al-Hamdani, Basim Al-Jabri and coach Alaa Hussein as three important figures in his kabaddi career.
Ali Sari was also selected as Iraqi’s Best Male Kabaddi Player in conjunction with the World Kabaddi Day in March.
Ali Sari is proud to note that Iraq has been able to outperform countries that had a much longer tradition in playing kabaddi.
“Today, Iraq is proving to be a difficult opponent for any of our rivals in Asia,” said Ali Sari.
Asian countries are the kingpins of kabaddi although teams from the other continents have been working hard to close the gap.
Ali sees a great future for kabaddi in Iraq and hopes for the younger players to work hard to continue the foundation laid by the pioneer players.
“The most important point is that they must listen to their coach’s advice and always be optimistic about the future. They must train hard and strive to be better than other players,” said Ali Sari.
He hoped that World Kabaddi would be able to more international training programmes and competitions.
“This will help bringing together professional players from around the world to compete against each other and improve,” said Ali Sari.
The ever smiling player also hoped that kabaddi would be included at the Olympics in the future.
“I hope that there will be a concerted effort by all countries to fight for the inclusion of Kabaddi in the Olympic Games. It is the best way to elevate the status of this sport and for the players to achieve their ambition,” said Ali Sari.