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Pro Kabbadi League: When Kabaddi players got recognised on the streets

Tuesday, 2 September 2014 - 6:35am IST | Place: Mumbai | Agency: dna

Pro Kabbadi League has turned unknown sportsmen into household names giving them their share of more than 15 minutes of fame
  • The celebrations of the Jaipur Pink Panthers team after their win went well past midnight Salman Ansari dna

Kabaddi is breathtaking. It is, literally.

And lifting the first-ever Pro-Kabaddi trophy was an example of one such moment. Though the players are trained to go breathless for a long time, the excitement of being the first to lift the cup, left Jaipur Pink Panthers skipper Navneet Gautam gasping.

"We still haven't gotten over what we did yesterday," says Gautam, who was travelling back to Jaipur a day after they overcame the Mumbai outfit UMumba 35-24 in the final here.

The tournament, that lasted little more than a month, has left an indelible impression on the minds of these kabaddi players, who know of adulation in rural parts but possibly did not imagine they would be feted and loved in metro cities as well.

"As a Kabaddi player it feels incredible to get that recognition amongst the public. Despite the crowd not knowing much about the rules, there was a sense of belongingness that they shared for their city.

"We saw in our home leg at Jaipur how quickly Maninder Singh and Jasvir Singh, our two main raiders, became household names," says Gautam, who is eagerly awaiting the news about the Indian Kabaddi team that shall participate at the Asian Games in Incheon this month.

"The league made sure that the sport enters the minds of the Indians. Kabaddi is a game deeply rooted in the soil and you know Kabaddi is making the right noises when you have important dignitaries and celebrities talk about the game," he adds.

Anuup Kumar may have been on the losing side in Sunday's final, but the Umumba captain's heroics has made sure the next time he makes the trip from Haryana to Mumbai, his face will be remembered. He talks about the phenomena which is seen in the Indian Premier League where even little known players, who haven't made it to the national side, become household names. The trend seen during the Pro Kabaddi League was no different.

"I've been associated with the game for 15 years, played for the country since the last 10. Never before this have so many people come up to us and shake our hands, pose for selfies," says Kumar who recounts an incident which he says he won't forget.

"Our team decided to visit the Siddhivinayak temple. There was a lot of chaos because of the presence of a dignitary. But the crowd there recognised us and the entire team was allowed to enter the temple ahead of others. You feel so happy and there is a good feeling of belongingness to what we do and that is play Kabaddi," says Kumar.

With the league, Kabaddi made right noises as far as glamour quotient and giving the players a feeling of belongingness with the audience is concerned. The Pink Panthers were rewarded with an after party at a five star hotel in the city to celebrate their win.

With the attention that the sport received during the tournament, players like Gautam came into public attention. But with his team having gone one step further, this was the first of many parties and brushes with stardom for the 31-year-old Arjuna Award winner.

"The competition we had is no different from other sports so there was no question of us celebrating to the grandest. The way we partied showed how badly we wanted the win. The game was over, the match was won," says Gautam.

It is not only Indian players, who are basking in the new-found fame, there is Wei Yang, a defender from Taiwan, who is revelling in the success of Panthers.

"No one expected a player from Taiwan to come here and play Kabaddi of all things. Not only did he play, his role for the team in the final is one of the reasons why we ended up champions. That's a Taiwanese we're talking about," says Gautam.

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