Kabaddi, a traditional Indian sport, got a huge fillip with the introduction of the Pro Kabaddi League in 2014.
Abhilasha Mhatre (left), Mamtha Poojari and Tejeswini Bai during Women's Kabaddi Challenge launch yesterday. Pic/Shadab Khan
India's skipper Rakesh Kumar, Mostafa Noudehi etc became household names soon as kabaddi fever caught the imagination of the nation.
While the men soaked in the fame and adulation, the women were left with nothing to boast about. However, this is set to change from today as the women's kabaddi players will now participate in a professional league like their male counterparts.
The Women's Kabaddi Challenge will have three teams — Fire Birds captained by Mamtha Poojari, Ice Divas led by Abhilasha Mhatre and Storm Queens led by India skipper Tejeswini Bai.
The first match will be played at the National Sports Club of India (NSCI) Stadium, Worli today, while the final will be held alongside the men's title clash in Hyderabad on July 31.
The women's league will be played across Mumbai, New Delhi, Hyderabad, Bangalore, Kolkata, Jaipur and Pune.
Tejeswini recalled the craving for recognition in India despite success on the international circuit. "It's hard to digest for kabaddi players who have won laurels for the
country, rewarded with the Arjuna award, but still do not get recognition.
"I led the Indian team, but only those who know and follow this game religiously are able identify us in public. After so much struggle and hard work, I am nowhere to be seen on the television," lamented Tejeswini while talking to mid-day.
Echoing similar sentiments was Poojari, considered one of the top raiders in the national team.
"Initially my parents opposed kabaddi. Coming from a small village in Udupi, Karnataka, it was never easy for me. Wearing shorts was a taboo.
"Fortunately my brother and father stood by me. Now, my husband backs me and this has kept me going in the game," said Poojari, who married a software professional three years ago.
Meanwhile, Abhilasha is wary of playing on the same playing field as the men. "Generally, the men's kabaddi court is bigger. But in this competition, we will have to play on the same courts. Adapting to this change will be crucial," she said.