Simple, visceral, fun: why the ancient sport of kabaddi is enjoying a resurgence


India is hosting the first Kabaddi World Cup for nine years, and a once quaint pastime – a mix of red rover, wrestling and tag – is getting a makeover

Although still largely unknown outside of South Asia, kabaddi is an ancient Indian sport in the midst of a resurgence on the subcontinent. Outdating more dominant (and imported) sporting traditions like cricket and field hockey, kabaddi – a mix of red rover, wrestling, and tag – was long considered a pursuit of the underclasses, a dusty, pre-modern relic devoid of the glitz, spectacle, and revenue of sophisticated, contemporary sport. With the launch of the Pro Kabaddi League in 2014, a venture backed by regional media behemoth Star Sports, the once provincial and quaint pastime has been souped up with stylishly marketed franchises, celebrity owners, revamped rules, and pumped full of cash to the tune of almost 200 million viewers in almost 100 countries.

The Kabaddi World Cup kicked off in Ahmedabad this weekend, at the TransStadia Arena, where the paint is still drying. It will be the first time in the sport’s (alleged) 4,000-year history that so many international eyes fall upon the simultaneously primal and novel sight of kabaddi’s robust frames lunging, evading, bashing into, and diving upon one another in search of points. Teams from 12 countries – India, Iran, Bangladesh, Thailand, the United States, Australia, Japan, South Korea, England, Poland, Kenya, and Argentina – are competing in the first edition of the Kabaddi World Cup in nine years, and the first since its revolution into a modern sporting enterprise.

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