The 23rd of August 2018 will be imprinted as one of the biggest days in Kabaddi history as the Indian men’s team, seven-time champions of the Asian Games fell 18-27 to a mighty Iran side as social media went into a tizzy.
Fast forward less than three weeks. The Indian team faces yet another major hurdle as they will take to the mat yet again on the 15th of September, this time against their compatriots, who will be playing under the watchful eyes of the New Kabaddi Federation of India (NKFI).
Led by the ex-Indian player Mahipal Singh, the motion to challenge the selection of the Indian team will see the current lot of national players going against prospective talents from the rest of the nation in a one-off match to decide the fate of Indian Kabaddi.
The match will be overseen by Delhi High Court Justice (retired) S P Garg, who has been appointed as the principal observer and will be assisted by an officer from the Ministry of Youth Affairs and Sports.
India vs Rest of India?
Ahead of the commencement of the Asian Games, the selection of the Indian men’s kabaddi team for the tournament came under the scanner, and the decision to challenge the Amateur Kabaddi Federation of India’s (AKFI) move to send the 12-man squad to Jakarta was taken to court.
Since the inception of Kabaddi at the Asian Games, the Indian team had managed to clinch victory in each edition, and under talismanic raider Ajay Thakur, the same story was expected to be re-written. However, what followed was a dramatic twist that saw the Men in Blue shed tears on the court, in shock as the Iranians made merry as if they had won the tournament, while it was only their entry into the grand finale.
Now, with only a week to go for the big clash, the Indian team will be sweating to prove their mettle and in the process, show that their selection is in the right spirit.
“One of the biggest issues that Indian kabaddi has faced is the presence of the same players in the national team for almost half a decade,” says Arjuna Awardee and ex-International kabaddi player Honnappa Gowda to The Bridge as he adds, “There is a lot of talent waiting in the wings. Unfortunately, there are not given the chance.”
Another prominent figure in the kabaddi circuit is the General Secretary of the NKFI, MV Prasad Babu, who is all for the motion to dismiss the current group of administrators at the AKFI.
“Corruption has completely rid the country of a whole lot of exciting kabaddi players,” says Prasad Babu to The Bridge. He does not shy away from blaming the current federation.
“The Gehlot family has been at the top of the tree for close to 30 years now, which has shut the door on fresh faces selected into the Indian team,” he says, emphasizing on the continual presence of veteran administrator Janardhan Singh Gehlot at the AKFI’s president’s post for a long time that has done nothing to shape the course of Indian kabaddi’s future.
“The NKFI’s plan is pretty simple. We are looking to lay out a platform for players from all over the country to get their deserved chance and not fall out under the shadow of the current players”, Prasad Babu says as he adds, “We are not trying to undermine the players who have served the nation so far. We are only looking to promote more talent in the country”.
It has come to the general understanding that the players in question, however, have been given a green ticket to either opt for featuring in the contest or backing out. “It all depends on the players’ interest“, said a source close to The Bridge.
“Gehlot’s removal in 2013 brought no winds of change.”
After a tenure of close to two decades, Gehlot, currently serving as the President of the International Kabaddi Federation(IKF) was forced to step down from his post owing to the implementation of the National Sports Code in 2013, which prevented any official from assuming the president’s position for more than a maximum period of four years, over three terms.
However, that made no difference as Gehlot’s wife Mridula Gehlot, a gynaecologist by profession assumed the role in 2013 and was re-elected for four years in April 2017 which saw the pattern presenting no new winds of change.
Aghast at the re-election of an official who had no prior experience playing or administrating with any positive effect on Indian Kabaddi, the NKFI filed a petition for the removal of Mridula Gehlot from the post, which received a positive response.
Ahead of the Asian Games, representatives from the NKFI approached the High Court with an appeal on the lines of the hidden bribery that gave the players an extended run in Indian colours. Not wanting any hindrance to the Indian campaign at the Games, the decision was taken to put the allegation into motion post the Asian Games.
Indo-International Kabaddi League, a league of opportunities
According to sources, it has also come to notice that some players, fearing their careers in the Pro Kabaddi League have also opted out from taking part in the upcoming selection process.
“The NKFI is planning to launch a new league, which has already received a lot of support from the rest of the world. All this to give an opportunity for the hidden talent to shine,” says Prasad Babu.
NKFI v AKFI, a battle to decide Indian kabaddi’s future
Now, the NKFI continues to wage a struggle against the politics that has surrounded Indian kabaddi and hopes to start a fresh chapter. A chapter that could see the nation unearth finer talents to represent the country in the future.
Ultimately, it all boils down to the all-important battle, which will also serve as the selection process at the Thyagarajan Sports Complex in Delhi on the 15th of September at 11:00 AM.
The whole process will also be ‘videographed and a copy of which will be preserved by the Sports Association of India and one more to be presented in court’.
It is also mentioned that ‘The selection process will be presided by a combination of three selectors, who shall be appointed by the Secretary of Ministry of Youth Affairs and Sports’.
Ultimately, this could all boil down to it emerging as a utilitarian clash that could well put Indian kabaddi in either a pandemonium or in a position of strength.