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Going the IPL-way did not help Kabaddi at Asiad. So what next for the sport?

Going the IPL-way did not help Kabaddi at Asiad. So what next for the sport?

Akshat Mehrish

Published: 23 Aug 2018 3:25 PM GMT
Following the success of the Indian Premier League, Kabaddi launched a version of its own- the Pro Kabaddi League. The organisers banked on the popularity of the sport and started a commercially driven league destined to follow in the footsteps of IPL. Eight franchise competed, amidst much fanfare, in the first-ever PKL. The first season of the league was a huge success. Shorter format and end-to-end action made Kabaddi viewer-friendly as well. The league had been established to secure a better future for the sport, and the early signs towards that were positive as well. From then on, the league grew and grew. More money started being pumped-in every year, with the most prominent sponsors trying to tie up with the league. The popularity of the league also increased, as did the number of the teams. Kabaddi no longer remained a sport but became a means of entertainment.
Five editions of the Pro Kabaddi League transpired between the last and the latest Asian Games.

Asian Games 2018

India had always been a dominant force in Kabaddi. Since the introduction of Men's Kabaddi in 1990, the Indian team had won the Gold in every single edition of the Asiad. As a result of this dominance, the country had been assured of a medal even before the tournament began. The Women's team had been equally dominant. They had won on both the occasions the Sport made the roster, in 2010 and 2014. However, the 2018 Asian Games proved to be a very different experience for both the Men and the Women. The Indian Men's team started the competition well, beating the likes of Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, and Thailand. The first signs of warning came soon, however.
The Men's team suffered their first-ever Asiad loss to South Korea.
The Korean side beat the seven-time Gold medalists 24-23. However, that loss was dismissed as one of a kind where the team lacked focus and were complacent. After all, it was only a group game, and India had almost qualified for the semifinal. Nevertheless, the Indian team were to be stunned again in the competition. This time it was not a close defeat. And this time, there would be no coming back. Iran beat India in the semifinals of the Kabaddi competition at the Asiad by 27-18. The Indian's were well and truly outclassed on the day by their opponents, who recovered from a six-point deficit to take the match.

What Went Wrong?

The commercialisation of sports has its own merits and demerits. Pumping in more money is always good for any game. When it is turned into a franchise-based system, it creates an overall atmosphere which appeals to the fans. IPL proved this eleven years ago. Such was the magnitude of its success which several other leagues (ISL, PKL, HIL) followed. However, in creating a commercially-driven system, the sport loses something at the core. Suddenly, the focus is more on the entertainment factor than the competition itself. IPL showed the flaws of this system when it produced players who could only play in that specific format. As a result, the more extended forms suffered. Nevertheless, IPL is still one of the most successful leagues in the world. The Indian Soccer League suffered as well when they cut down on some much-needed factors to focus mainly on the entertainment one.
For example, for the first three seasons, the annual football league was wrapped up in a month.
This meant that the teams were playing back-to-back matches, which resulted in fitness levels dropping. As a result, the quality of football was terrible. And now, Pro Kabaddi League is showing the same symptoms, when the promised progress remained a promise itself. For example, the Indian Men's team selection was heavily based on PKL performances which lead to several new and internationally inexperienced players coming to Jakarta. It showed eventually, as they lost two matches for the first time in the history of the Asiad. Other factors led to India's defeat as well. The performance of the team on the day was not up to the mark, as both the raiders and the defenders faltered. Speaking of performances...

Iran's Heroics

Iran deserves plenty of credit for their monumental victory on the day. The west-Asian side beat perhaps the number one contenders for the Gold medal and went down in the history books. Moreover, Iran showed that they are a force to be reckoned with for years to come. They showed a different side of Kabaddi in the Asian Games as well, playing with an extremely attacking yet cautious philosophy. When called upon, Iran's defence shone as well. Throughout the tournament, they restricted opponents within twenty to twenty-five points, while at the same time going on to score massive points themselves.
Another unique tactic employed by the two-time runner-ups was focusing on all-around display.
Throughout their matches, the Iranian team broke free from their roles of star defenders and raiders to play as a collective unit. The best example of this can be cited from today's encounter with India when raider Abolfazl Maghsoudlou brilliantly tackled Monu Goyat in his half, to give Iran two much-needed 'Super Tackle' points. Iran's display should be worrying for India. For the first time, the nine-time champions risk losing their coveted crown at the top of the kabaddi ladder. Iran has shown that they are ready to be the next Superpower in the sport. As a result, the burden now falls on India.

The Flipside

Iran's display in the Kabaddi competition at the 2018 Asian Games, also raises a very unique point. Yes, the West-Asian team was brilliant throughout, but was that brilliance actually obtained in India? Iranian raiders and defenders also are a part of the Kabaddi League. In fact, they are some of the best in the business. However, in order to achieve that status, they too had to play in and learn from the PKL. Coming to India, playing against some of the best in the world, and learning new tactics helped Iran a lot. They can thank the commercialisation of the sport for that. Moreover, four years ago when PKL was started, its motive was to make Kabaddi a more global and more enjoyable sport. To do that, you first need to break the monopoly which some a few have over the sport itself. And so far, it has been able to do exactly that. Yes, monetising the sport didn't pay-off for the Indian team. It did, however, pay off for others such as South Korea and Iran. And all of a sudden, the sport has become much more interesting than it already was, now that India isn't guaranteed a result every time they step onto the mat. In a more global sense, PKL has been a success. But let's focus on India for now. Yes, the PKL has been a huge commercial success in the country. But, as stated earlier, commercial success doesn't always guarantee results. The whole point of this industrial revolution of Kabaddi has been irrelevant, as the team has gone backwards. Once again, the people need to go back to the basics and instead focus on the sport, not the extravagance it brings. It is time for India to go back to the drawing board. 
Also read: Time to ensure a fair selection process: former Kabaddi captain
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