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Pro Kabaddi League launches with cash, glitz and glamour

... and ladies. Pro Kabaddi League launched to catapult kabaddi into ‘cool’ sports bracket with money, some glitz and glamour. Team owners say they believe league will change fortunes of low key Indian game

It was hold your breath time as the auction for India’s first ever Pro Kabaddi League, took off at the ITC Grand Central Hotel in Parel yesterday morning. It was already a sweltering May morn but the mercury went up a couple of notches, as the auction saw some feverish buying of kabaddi players from across the country and beyond.

Kabaddi is a game of skill, speed and agility. Pic for representational purposes only
Kabaddi is a game of skill, speed and agility. Pic for representational purposes only

Though most of the players were from India, there was a smattering from Iran, S Korea, Nepal and Pakistan too. The Pro Kabaddi League takes off from July 26 and ends on August 31. It is being played at different venues in the country.

Going, going, gone
The gavel came down at Rs 4 lakh, 5 lakh, 9 lakh... one may not think too much of these amounts as we are used to players going for astonishing sums in the glitzy, high-profile Indian Premier League (IPL), yet, it is a beginning and a significant one at that.

The team owners and representatives talk about their vision for the league. Abhishek Bachchan has the mike. Pic/Pradeep Dhivar
The team owners and representatives talk about their vision for the league. Abhishek Bachchan has the mike. Pic/Pradeep Dhivar

The auctioneer’s voice went on as franchise owners and strategists started bidding for players, “Do I hear 4.40, yes, 4.60… does nobody want him at 4.60? Yes, I see a hand going up… 4.80 it now is…" the voice cut through as buyers did their mental arithmetic.

Franchises bid for players at the Pro Kabaddi League auction yesterday at Grand Central ITC, Parel. Pic/Pradeep Dhivar
Franchises bid for players at the Pro Kabaddi League auction yesterday at Grand Central ITC, Parel. Pic/Pradeep Dhivar

A sports auction is like any other auction hectic bidding, pumping adrenaline, silence when an ‘unwanted’ player comes up for bidding, ego battles and smiles of triumph when the bid is won. In sporting auctions, it is the human element that replaces inanimate objects being bid for.

Auctions in fact are the latest story about Indian sport, hockey, tennis, badminton, football also have leagues here, following the IPL success. Now, one can add kabaddi to that clone queue.

Press
As the auction tapered off, last player bid for and sold, owners and representatives of owners of different teams moved into an adjoining room to address the press. The cameras were ready for the glam quotient of this sport which has little glitz or star value attached to it. Glam came in the shape of grey-suited Abhishek Bachchan, sporting a stubble. The actor has a team called the Jaipur Pink Panthers, in this pro league.

Perception
Well-known sports anchor Charu Sharma co-ordinated the press conference that followed the auction. Mumbai team owner, Ronnie Screwvala, who has named his city team a rather rousing, U Mumba stated that, “Kabaddi is a zara hatke sport.

Yet, contrary to perception it is a mainline game with at least 1,500 clubs playing the sport. We hope this league promotes both a competitive and collaborative spirit.”

Delhi team (no name yet for that squad) CEO Radha Kapoor, the lone lady on the dais stated that this was a “great initiative and a proud moment. It is a way to harness people’s dreams and showcase India globally.”

From a global flavour to the game of the soil, Kolkata team representative, whose squad goes by the name of Bengal Warriors, said that kabaddi is a, “truly Indian sport, which we played as children, it has always been an integral part of our lives.”

Abhishek Bachchan, who was centre on the dais stated that it had been, “An exciting, exhilarating morning with the kabaddi auction. The winner is the sport and sportspersons. I urge the media to really get behind this league and do all whatever you can to help promote this sport.”

Attention
Flashbulbs continued to explode in response to that. Smiling widest on the stage was kabaddi federation chief J S Gehlot who sensed that the sport now stands on the cusp of very exciting times. Gehlot stated that, “This Indian sport has made it to the Asian Games and now, we have to make that leap towards the Olympics. The sport is now in the international era, and, this is surely its biggest push.”

Like Abhishek, Gehlot too urged the media to back the league and sport with publicity. “Even two lines in a newspaper can make a kabaddi player forget his sweat. Electronic media played its part in making cricket the juggernaut that it is today and kabaddi in fact, is played in many more nations and making inroads into more and more countries. Today, there are 32 countries that play kabaddi. Do something for this sport too,” he finished.

Promotions
For the representatives of Puneri Paltans kabaddi team from Pune “it is about taking up a game, with passion." The Telugu Titans representative stated that, “it is all about promoting the game” while the “Bangaluru Bulls” stated that the objectives were to make it the, “best sporting league there is, make Bangalore count and give back something to the game.” After that three-pronged objective, the Patna team spokesperson (team yet to be named) had a succinct two words: “thank you.”

Pakistan
Some questions followed, with the press asking about a couple (three to four) Pakistan players who were up for grabs in the league. Officials simply said they were "hopeful" that Pak players would be cleared to play in the League and were “working towards that.” Some franchises have bought Pakistan players.

Organizers merely stated that they were hopeful. They admitted that there were no visa guarantees as yet. All the organizers stressed that this initiative was a beginning, “we are sowing the seeds of a tree” said Charu, while others stated that they were “small fish" compared to IPL but they had belief in this idea. There was a cap of Rs 60 lakh for buying the players and the prize money is Rs 1 crore.

It is “small fish” as was stated but then, every start up cannot be on the same scale of the IPL, given the stature and visibility that cricket already had, prior to the IPL. Having said that, one can only hope that the kabaddi league metamorphoses into bigger things post this beginning.

While most Indian sporting leagues and players dream about getting the profile and making the megabucks that IPL players make, there’s one thing that this league should not emulate from the IPL model.

More kabaddi and less controversy, should be the credo unlike the IPL, where controversy and cricket seem to go together, like batting partners on opposite ends of the pitch.

Lights, kabaddi, auction
The eight franchises contested for the best. The Bengaluru Bulls, won the bid for star raider, Asian Indoor Games 2013 gold medallist, Ajay Thakur for Rs 12,20,000.

Patna brought home World Cup Gold Medallist from 2007, Rakesh Kumar, with Rs 12,80,000, recording the highest bid of the day. Delhi, won the bid for 2010 Asian Beach Games Gold Medallist, Surjeet Narwal for Rs 12, 20,000.

Rs 1crore the prize money on offer

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