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Monday, April 22, 2024

England Kabaddi stars chase dream in India

Immigration is a topic that normally elicits a one-way conversation about those entering Britian and how they can be stopped. Two Brits however have left the U.K. to pursue a dream to help elevate England’s Kabbadi team.

Felix Li, a tech manager and Yuvraj Pandeya, an accountant quit their jobs to pursue what they describe as a “passion” abroad. They have since secured contracts with Dabang Delhi in the Pro Kabaddi (PKL), described as the premier league of the sport and have also trained with former Indian captain Anup Kumar.

Whilst Pandeya has Indian heritage Li comes from a family of Hong Kong origin. He discovered kabaddi at Imperial College in London and grew to love the sport becoming the team captain. So far Li says he has attended two academy’s in India to learn the skills more thoroughly.

Tom Dawtrey another Kabbadi enthusiast and member of the England team will join his compatriots and cites the lack of opportunities in the UK which means that players are not able to develop their skills and improve what they learn. A lack of coaches is also an issue with Dawtrey saying, “The problem with kabaddi in the UK is that we don’t have the coaches with the know-how.

“We coach ourselves by watching videos, watching Pro Kabaddi.”

The PKL had 226 million viewers during the first 90 matches of its 2023-24 regular season, making it the second fastest growing sport in South Asia after cricket. The last two cricket world cup’s in 2019 and 2023 featured ten different countries, the last Kabbadi World cup held in 2016 had a total of 12.


The widespread appeal of Kabbadi might have something to do with the fact that it is an inexpensive sport to play. The Bradford Hindu Council says “Kabaddi is an extremely popular sport in India because it does not have any cost for fancy equipment etc and can be played by everyone from children to adults, rich and poor, men and women.” The sport is said to have originated in India some 4,000 years ago.

Li compares it with both rugby and “team wrestling with tag”. “I’ve played rugby throughout school. That’s probably why I could make some catches in my first training session,” Li told Reuters.

Dawtery also cites comparisons with Rugby saying there are a lot of transferable skills between the two sports. “Some of the tackles are pretty similar, as well as the agility and the strength combination.”

The sport being played by Li and Pandeya is a variation of the bare chested, slap fest associated with the open maidaans of the Punjab. The playing surface comprises of a rectangular mat divided in two with each team taking turns in sending a player to the opponents’ half for a “raid” of 30 seconds or less. The aim being to touch one or more of their opponents and return to the centre line to score the points.

The repetition of kabbadi, kabbadi, kabbadi a Tamil word which means holding hands, is evidence that the marauder is holding his breath a requirement of the game, with raiders aiming to make it to the opposite end and avoid the capture of defenders. They in turn use a range of manoeuvres including tackles and grapples to bring their foe down.

The new iteration has gained a mass following and has the backing of major media conglomerates with Twenty-First Century Fox unit Star India and Mashal Sports, making it a high-octane televised spectacle. In 2018 the tournament final attracted two-thirds of the viewership of the IPL cricket final.

In 2012 the England women’s Kabbadi team reached the semi finals of the World Cup in India, playing to large crowds in their tens of thousands. In 2019 the England football team was snapped enjoying a game of Kabbadi as part of their training in Southampton. The BBC also began to broadcast British Kabbadi League tournament matches on its iPlayer platform.


Despite this Kabbadi remains unknown to many in Britain, and is often associated with a memorable stint as Saturday morning entertainment on Channel 4 in the 1990s. The haunting intro where the word Kabbadi was repeated in a breathless fashion was enjoyed by many in Britain.

A Change.org petition by a Tim Harding. implored someone to “Bring back Kabbadi” in 2016. Admittedly it gained just nine signatures but casual conversations with many whose childhood or adult years coincided with a Saturday morning diet of Italian football, fondly recall watching behemoth figures in India slap and thrash their way to glory.

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