By S.T. Arasu
For many kabaddi enthusiasts, the sport deserves a place in the Olympics. This is not based purely on sentiments but also looking into technical skills and physical prowess required to play the sport.
However, gaining Olympic recognition is not as straightforward as many believe it to. The success of the ongoing Pro League Kabaddi or the Indo International Premier Kabaddi League (IIPKL) in India are not the sole benchmark.
That the leagues are hugely popular in India does not necessarily translate to the universal popularity of the sport.
And with cricket also bidding to get into the Olympics, it will also be a Catch-22 situation for India in deciding which sport they need to put their weight behind.
Being recognised by the International Olympic Council (IOC) is seen as a precursor to being included in the official Olympics roster.
The Olympics has had its fair share of non-mainstream sports including Basque Pelota, Roque and Jeu de paume being included in its roster in the past.
Unlike kabaddi, sports like Bandy, Korfball, Life Saving, Sumo, Dancesport, Boules, and the Chinese martial arts of Wushu are already among the IOC recognised sports.
Just because kabaddi is in the Asian Games programme also does not guarantee the sports elevation to Olympic status.
The 2006 Doha Asian Games almost spelt the end of kabaddi in the Asian Games because of lack of participating teams and was saved after the expenses of one team was fully paid for by the Indian authorities.
The international effort to promote kabaddi at a more professional and productive manner is somewhat lacking. First and foremost, there is a need decide as to which form of kabaddi is better suited for the task – the National Style as played at the Asian Games or the Circle Style.
During the 1936 Berlin Olympics, kabaddi was demonstrated, albeit not as an official programme, by the Hanuman Vyayam Prasarak Mandal from Amaravati, Maharashtra.
The form of kabaddi better suited for Olympic is not the only issue here. It is imperative for the game to be modernised as well as to chart better directions in making the Olympic recognition a reality.
Realistically, kabaddi can fight for inclusion for the 2028 Olympics but that is highly improbable because no proper groundwork exists at the international level.
All we hear are mere political statements designed for the feel good factor.
Kabaddi at the international level needs an upheaval. IOC regulation stipulates that there must be a minimum of 50 countries from three continents playing the game as one of the preconditions to be a member of the IOC.
Kabaddi, for all we know is still an Asian dominated game. The sport does the sport have regular continental championships even in Asia. Almost no continental championships are held outside of Asia.
And with so many international bodies claiming to be the governing body for the sport, it only further complicates matters.
World Kabaddi, on its part has worked hard to introduce the game to more countries and can lay claim to be the only international kabaddi body with membership in all five continents. For the first time continental championships were also held in both Africa and Europe.
Inclusion in the Olympic programme is a fast-track to popularity with increased participation, television exposure, more sponsors and increased income. Apart from India, no other country is able to secure regular income for kabaddi from sponsorship or broadcast rights.
The choice of which sports take part in the Olympics is up to the 90 members of the International Olympic Committee (IOC) who make the decision on the basis of proposals from each Games’ local organising committee.
These proposals are evaluated against five categories, split into 35 criteria.
The international federation will need to fill out questionnaires that can run 100 pages long with information on gender equity, global participation and passion by fans as measured by TV audiences, social media, event attendance and more.
The IOC is also increasingly emphasising the importance of sports with youth appeal, leading to the inclusion skateboarding, sports climbing and surfing for the Tokyo Olympics.
New sports do not enjoy permanent status at the Olympics. The Olympic Programme has about 25 core sports including athletics and swimming.
Other sports are subject to regular review with those that are included at the promotion of the local organising committee of a particular Games in a particular year being susceptible to removal.
Many sports are already spending huge amount of resources to be considered as potential additions to the Olympic programme.
There are a couple of different paths to inclusion in the Olympics. The traditional way is for a sport’s international federation to petition the IOC, but the alternative is for local organizing committees to push favoured sports in their country. France who are hosting the 2028 Games are certainly not to push for kabaddi’s inclusion.
India is one of the countries bidding to host the 2032 Olympics and perhaps if they win the bid there could be a chance for kabaddi’s inclusion. But, there is no guarantee of that too. Remember that kabaddi was not even considered for inclusion at the Commonwealth Games when India hosted it in 2010.
Kabaddi, if it wants to be included at the Olympics needs to show its inherent strength as a sports favoured by the new generation as well as prove its own professional structural capacity.
The immediate task for kabaddi to uplift its status would be to ensure sound administrative and financial set-up. It is therefore imperative that the major rival international kabaddi governing bodies to sit together and map out a way to work as one unit.
Once this is done, the rest would be much easier to implement including proper kabaddi education for technical and coaching.
A structured competition calendar with events for both women and men at junior and senior levels at both World, Regional and National levels are implemented.
Mere press statements that efforts are being made to include kabaddi at the Olympics without actual steps being taken is just political in nature and does not reflect the reality.
Until there is concerted readiness to drive the sports towards Olympic inclusion, it may be better for the sport to strengthen its own tournaments.
In the case of World Kabaddi, these would be to upgrade its World Cup and regional tournaments, i.e. Asian Championships, European Championships, African Championships, Pan American Championships and Oceania Championships.
Take a leaf out of FIFA’s strategy in ensuring their World Cup is a much bigger event for football than the Olympics. Football at the Olympics is only an age group tournament. Football does not need the Olympics, it is the Olympics that needs football.
Kabaddi at the Olympics is at this point just a dream. Making it a reality needs a united and decisive support and hardwork of the entire kabaddi fraternity.
The views and opinions expressed above are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of World Kabaddi . Any content provided by our bloggers or authors are of their opinion and are not intended to malign any religion, ethnic group, club, organization, company, individual or anyone or anything.