Kabaddi may not compare to cricket in the glamour quotient but when it came to finding buyers for the eight franchises of the recently-launched World Kabaddi League, the organisers had 16 bidders to choose from, says the event's commissioner and former hockey player Pargat Singh.
The Wave World Kabaddi League, spread across three continents, is the first such event of its kind and was launched with much fanfare and Bollywood glitter over the last weekend.
Speaking to PTI about its potential and financial viability, Pargat claimed that the tournament has what it takes to grow successfully in the years to come. "We didn't have any problem finding buyers for the franchises. When we first made the announcement, 16 buyers were ready and we had a lot of choice. And some very high profile people like Akshay Kumar and Sonakshi Sinha have come on board, that says a lot about the potential of this league," said Pargat, an active politician with Punjab's ruling party Shiromani Akali Dal, which has given the event its support.
The former defender, who was chosen to be the league's commissioner due to his experience as Director (Sports) in Punjab, claimed that WKL was launched keeping in mind Kabaddi's immense popularity in his state but the event will spread its wings in other parts of the country as well.
The IPL-style WKL will be played out in eight international and six Indian cities with its final on December 14.
"Kabaddi is a big sport in Punjab, especially rural Punjab. We are trying to tap into that popularity. The players will earn well through this league and youngsters would be tempted to take up a sport which is indigenous to our country," said Pargat referring to Rs 1.5 crore pay cheque that each of the participating player is getting in the event.
Asked about the financial viability of the event, Pargat claimed that franchise owners will break even after the first two seasons - a massive assessment given that even in the IPL, franchises took more than that to start counting their profits. It will take them two seasons to break even. Idea is not just to make money but bringing about a structural change in how kabaddi is run in India. Such an event will help make structural changes to the sport's administration," he explained.
On whether the number of franchises could go up in the coming seasons, Pargat said that would be looked into only after the first two years. "We will see how it goes in the first two seasons. The event will grow on its own," he said.
The WKL also hit the headlines for inviting a Pakistani team (Lahore Lions) -- a bold move given that the sporting ties between the two neighbours hit the rough weather after the 2008 Mumbai terror attacks. Pargat said the idea behind the decision was to add value to the league besides raising the interest value. "We are only trying to build bridges in the society because sports and politics are two separate entities. But sports can help improve relations. So sports should be kept away from politics. We are quite confident that they will add value to the event," he said.
Away from kabaddi, Pargat has also been following the fortunes of the Indian hockey team and was quite happy to see the team win a silver medal at the recent Commonwealth Games. "Except for the final against Australia, which they lost 0-4, they were good through the tournament. So they should continue to improve. The team needs to make structural changes. A more consistent change in the fortunes can only come with that," he signed off.