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Poor officiating spoils Asian Games India v Iran Kabaddi final - Explained

The men's Kabaddi final between India and Iran was marred with a bizarre suspension of one hour after confusion about rules arose near the end of the gold medal match.

Poor officiating spoils Asian Games India v Iran Kabaddi final - Explained

Indian Kabaddi players and coaches registering their protest during the Asian Games 2023 final against Iran.


Pritish Raj

Updated: 7 Oct 2023 1:25 PM GMT

Indian kabaddi coaches and officials said the reason why the much-anticipated Asian Games 2023 final between India and Iran turned ugly towards the end was a bizarre confusion between the officials regarding the rules of the sport.

A decision ruled in favour of Iran became the bone of contention, and the match was suspended indefinitely due to the controversy and resumed only an hour later. Eventually, India emerged victorious with a 33-29 win. India reclaimed the gold medal after nine years.

The Bridge talked to women's team coach Kavitha Selvaraj and senior Pro Kabaddi League referee Ajit Kumar, who gave the lowdown on what exactly led to the controversy in the men's kabaddi final in Hangzhou.

What happened exactly?

With less than 90 seconds remaining on the clock, Pawan Sehrawat went into a do-or-die raid with the scores tied at 28-28. While raiding, Pawan went out of the bounds into the lobby without touching any defender of Iran.

As Pawan went into the lobby, four Iranian defenders came to dash. Iran was awarded a point as Pawan went out but the Indian team started protesting the decision.

"When Pawan Serawat was raiding, he went into the lobby area and while chasing him, four Iranians also entered the lobby area," deciphered Kavitha Selvaraj, who is one of the coaches of the Indian women's kabaddi team.

The lobby is the strip on either side of the mat that is activated only after the raider makes a touch on a defender.

"Under International Kabaddi Federation rules, the Indian team was to get four points and Iran one point. But the referee gave one point each. India protested and even sat on the mat for around one hour," she explained further.

What do Kabaddi experts have to say?

The bone of contention for the controversy was the lobby rule which is different for the International Kabaddi Federation and the Pro Kabaddi League.

Senior Pro Kabaddi League referee Ajit Kumar, who was present in the audience cited poor decision-making by the jury as the reason for the chaos.

"Such situations keep happening in contact sports like Kabaddi. When Pawan went out and the other defenders followed him, the right decision was to award one point to Iran and the number of defenders who went without touch to India. However, due to confusion among the officials, they awarded 1-1 to each team causing chaos," Ajit said to this correspondent over the phone from Hangzhou.

"In the ninth season of Pro Kabaddi League, there was a rule change indicating that when a raider goes into the lobby without touching anyone, the raid will be over and the raider will be considered out," Ajit added.

"But that change was in Pro Kabaddi, not at the international level. So, the jury and referees should have stuck to their decision and not changed it three times. None of the teams are at fault for protesting the decisions," he stressed.

The officials and jury members present on the mat got confused about which rule to use and that was the main reason leading to the unwarranted controversy in the high-octane finale of the prestigious Asian Games.

At the elite level of sports, such visuals and moments put a bad light on the sport. The final between India and Iran will be remembered not for Pawan's hi-flying moves or Shadlu's electric raids, but for the drama and chaos ensued by confusion over the rules.

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