Kabaddi: Diplomacy plays its part in tag of war: Ian Ridley reports on the introduction to the British sporting public of Asia's game for the lithe and lion-hearted

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The Independent Online
TO BORROW a saying from a Private Eye columnist: kabaddi - crazy name, crazy game.

What should have been a pioneering tournament for a sport, seeking to change its esoteric status in this country into a more established one, developed instead into chaos at Birmingham's National Indoor Arena yesterday.

The game given exposure on Channel 4 - this tournament will be seen later this year - can clearly excite strong passions. And since the six-team event, the world's first indoors, featured teams from its home of Pakistan and India, perhaps a shambles for sports politics was not so surprising after all.

The semi-final stage had been reached and the favourites to win the tournament, the Pak Green Club, were cruising by nine points against Indian Banks when complacency seemed to set in, and in a dramatic finale and fightback, they were beaten 25-26.

Acrimony abounded, however, though thankfully there was no repeat of Saturday's scuffle between two excited supporters of rival Pakistan teams. Pak Green, egged on by the crowd of predominantly Pakistani origin, lodged an appeal over the timing equipment.

The jury was out for nearly two hours before deciding, somewhat diplomatically perhaps, that they might have had a point, and ordering a 20-minute replay.

Then, with Pak Green leading 13-6, the Indian team's management pulled them off court in protest at refereeing decisions. 'Pakistanis are dominating the jury and the referees,' the Banks coach, Jayaram Shetty, said.

After an another hour of negotiations, the three Indian teams agreed to finish the tournament to avoid further embarrassment. They were rewarded with Air India beating Pak Green 19-18 in the hurriedly staged final, which, though two hours behind shedule, was completed to the relief of the organisers.

'It has left an unpleasantness but we will learn from it,' Richard Callicott, the chairman of the recently formed National Kabaddi Association, said. 'There are always going to be politics in the background of any sport. At least we have ended up with some good news,' he insisted.

Not as good as it might have been, though, for a game unlike any other but like many. Briefly, it is played without props and barefooted by two teams, each of seven players. Each seek to score points off the other, taking it in turns to send a 'raider' into enemy territory to touch opponents then return home without being caught themselves.

Matches comprise two 20-minute halves and are played on a rectangle - although a variant in this country features a circular playing area - measuring 12.5 metres by 10 metres.

It has been described as a combination of tag, British bulldog and wrestling. There are also echoes of basketball with its alternate attacking, and volleyball with its camaraderie.

Then again, with its connotations of battles and territory, it is a bit like American football without the money, having originated in the villages of India on courts of compacted earth. The word kabaddi is apparently meaningless, just like cricket - worth bearing in mind if you think this is a silly game.

But a bit like Geoffrey Boycott going on about that other K-word 'kreekit', 'kabaddi' has to be chanted continuously by the raider during an attack. When he runs out of breath, after about 40 seconds, the raid has to end.

The game is gradually gaining momentum. At international level, it has been included in the Asian Games with eight nations taking part. The Commonwealth Games is the next step.

In this country, Sports Council recognition has been gained now that the NKA has been formed and this weekend's teams spent the previous week spreading the word in pockets of the game from Gravesend to Blackburn.

The idea of bringing the game indoors on judo matting at the NIA was to test its feasibility for sports centres in cold, old England.

As with most games, once there is a basic grasp of the rules, you begin to understand the skill and strategy, and recognise its appeal - its point, even.

Its politics are another matter.

(Photograph omitted)