Will the Indian government rally to get Kabaddi into the 2028 Olympics?
In 2014, the Jaipur Pink Panthers met U Mumba at the Sardar Vallabhai Patel Indoor Stadium in Mumbai to kick-off the Pro Kabaddi League in the presence of several Indian celebrities from myriad fields. Two hours later, the tournament was deemed as instant success and fans were hooked onto this league for years to come and the sport which was fast in nature and TV-friendly. Each game was wrapped up in an hour and the matches were seldom boring with innovations like ‘do or die’ raid added to the indigenous sport.
With the success of the Pro Kabaddi League and the shift in Kabaddi’s perception from a rural sport played in the muds to a pan-india sport played on the mats, the perennial question in the minds of the Indian fans has been, ‘why isn’t Kabaddi an Olympic sport?’ and ‘when will Kabaddi make its way into the Olympic game?’ We try and decode both the questions and explore the possibility of the sport’s addition to the quadrennial extravaganza.
India’s enthusiasm to include Kabaddi
Kabaddi was played as a demonstration at the 1936 Berlin Olympics, which helped to increase its international visibility, but it was not allowed to compete in the games. The Indian government has been enthusiastic to make Kabaddi a part of the Games. "Hopefully kabaddi will very soon become a global sport and we will see it emerge as a strong contender for an Olympic sport," Rajyavardhan Singh Rathore had opined in 2018’s the Kabaddi Masters Dubai. "Kabaddi has got all the qualities to become an Olympic sport. It has got speed, agility, power and teamwork. Hopefully, when it comes to Olympics we will clinch the first gold medal," he added.
Rathore was correct. Kabaddi has the qualities and it is even reflected in the viewership numbers of the sport’s premier tournament the PKL. The PKL was watched by 328 million viewers in the 2019 season and is second only to the Indian Premier League in terms of popularity. It had attracted significantly higher eyeballs compared that to the Tokyo Olympics’ viewership. The Tokyo Games were watched by 69 million viewers.
In spite of the popularity, the sport does lack behind in technicalities. The Olympic Charter indicates that in order to be accepted, a sport must be widely practised by men in at least 75 countries and on four continents and by women in no fewer than 40 countries and on three continents. And Kabaddi at the moment has national federations in just over 25 countries.
The Indian government’s excitement has to translate into propagating the sport worldwide. If India in collaboration with the International Kabaddi Federation convinces countries to form national associations for the sport, Kabaddi’s chances of getting into the 2028 or 2032 Olympics will be enhanced.