Kabaddi wasn't a sport that had mass appeal until the Pro Kabaddi League (PKL) came into existence.
The new league has brought in a fresh approach to the sport, which has been played in sandy backyards across India for generations. Interestingly, the steady rise in the popularity of the sport was visible even at the Mumbai Schools Sports Association (MSSA) inter-school kabaddi final at Azad Maidan on Sunday.
In the girls' U-16 final, Mahatma Gandhi Vidya Mandir (Bandra) beat Utkarsh Mandir (Malad) 36-12. The Bandra school's captain Ashwini Matal said that post PKL the attitude towards the sports has changed. "Till last year when we used to tell friends that we are going to play a kabaddi match, they used to make fun of us. Today the same people encourage us to play the sport."
Meanwhile, Ankita Gurav felt that parents too have become accommodating. "My parents never supported me. It was our coach Suhas Joshi who used to approach them and convince them to allow me play. Today, they encourage me not only play but to make it a career," said the 15-year-old who idolises Bengaluru Bulls' Ajay Thakur.
Utkarsh Mandir's (Malad) raider Aditi Shastri felt that there is still a lot that needs to be done for women's kabaddi. "Despite the hype that surrounds the sport, many parents are reluctant to send their daughters to play. Thankfully, my parents support me. There are a couple of my friends whose parents stop them from playing as they get dirty playing in the mud," said the 14-year-old Malad resident.
While in the boy's U-16 final, Mahatma Gandhi Vidya Mandir (Bandra) beat Utkarsh Mandir (Malad) 20-18. The Bandra school's skipper Vishal Waghela said he has turned into a hero post the arrival of the kabaddi league. "I used to be looked down upon as I didn't play a popular sport like cricket. Today, when kids in locality give me respect, I feel nice."
Utkarsh Mandir coach Satish Warke said that unlike earlier, he doesn't have to chase kids to play kabaddi. "There was a time when we had to convince kids to play kabaddi. Today, we don't have to struggle as they approach us to teach them to play the sport - thanks to the Pro Kabaddi League."
MSSA Indian Games secretary Deepak Shinde felt that it is the right time for the government to invest money in the sport. "The Pro Kabaddi League has given the initial glamour. This is the right time the sport needs an extra boost be in form of money, better facilities, equipment (mats, shoes) or infrastructure for the growth of the sport," said Shinde.