Kris Shannon's world of sport: The dummies guide to Pro Kabaddi

By Kris Shannon

Kabaddi's intricacies can be elusive for the uninitiated. Photo / AP
Kabaddi's intricacies can be elusive for the uninitiated. Photo / AP

We've just endured the most boring week of the sporting year. Euro 2016 ended and club football has yet to begin (laughing at Celtic doesn't count).

The NBA, NFL and NHL are all in their off-seasons, while baseball is enjoying its traditional mid-year break. All we international sporting addicts have had to sate our appetite is the Tour de France and, of course, Pro Kabaddi.

Regular watchers of Sky Sport would have seen this rather peculiar game crop up and so, suffering sporting withdrawals, I decided to check it out for the first time and compile this Dummy's Guide to Pro Kabaddi.

The team names

Are just about the best in world sport. Starring on this particular night were the Bengaluru Bulls and the Jaipur Pink Panthers, although the alliterative joy I feel is somewhat tempered by the knowledge I'm missing out on the Pune Purple Beards. I'm not 100 per cent certain that's an actual team, but during the opening montage, I did spot a green-faced pirate with purple facial hair, so I'm presuming.

The aesthetic value

Important for new sports. If I don't understand the rules - a certainty with Pro Kabaddi - I damn well better be treated to a visual feast. Mixed results here. The court is luminous purple, the fans are excitable and the uniforms are, predictably, fabulous, especially the baby-blue-and-pink combo sported by the Panthers. But the low-budget graphics - a CGI bull straight out of the early '90s greets Bengaluru's arrival - leaves a little to be desired.

The rules

Hmm. Yes. The rules. Well, I know Pro Kabaddi has rules, because there is an umpire enforcing them and awarding points in emphatic - and apparently not arbitrary - fashion. Quite what these rules entail, however, is difficult to discern. There is no ball, that much I know for sure. One team sends a player to the other end of the court, where he's surrounded by opponents, and they all seem to dance around without doing a whole lot. And then, suddenly, the attacker will dart forward and try to touch his enemy before the defenders bear-tackle him out of bounds. Your guess is as good as mine.

The terminology

There are raids, which I discover is where the attacker attempts to touch one of the defenders, and there are do-or-die raids, which I discover to be pretty much the same kind of thing. There are super tackles, which are worth two points and probably provide the best moments of Kabaddi, and there is something called the 'scorpion', which I may or may not have seen. Or made up in a Kabaddi-induced daze.

The stars

There are not too many familiar faces on the pro circuit. There are a lot of mean-looking dudes but no household names just yet. Jasvir Singh should be, though. A balding and slightly portly Panther, he at one point launches an elaborate flying back-heel kick, which is supposedly within the laws of the game. Just when I thought I was getting the hang of it.

The hand-holding

Easily my favourite part of Pro Kabaddi, the defenders team up in tandem and, for some reason, hold hands while jockeying around the raider. This practice is reflective of Indian culture as a whole, where it's completely customary for two male friends to walk down the street hand-in-hand. I think it's cute. More hand-holding in sport, please.

The commentary

The excitable duo calling the Bulls-Panthers match don't do a tremendous job of explaining just what the hell is happening. I did think that it's perhaps owing to Kabaddi's limited global scope, but then we see some Danish fans in the audience, sporting Kabaddi kit and everything. Does Denmark also play Kabaddi? No explanation from the commentators, but we do get this gag: "I was recently on a seafood diet - I would see and then eat the food." Pro Kabaddi: come for the hand-holding, stay for the dad jokes.

The conclusion

The Panthers take this one out by two points and, much more importantly, with the aid of Wikipedia, I can fill in some blanks post-match. There are several variations of Kabaddi, a sport that originated in ancient India. The Pro Kabaddi League was formed in 2014 and, with eight franchises in eight cities, was based on the IPL. But I'm burying the lede here. One of the main rules of Kabaddi - and I'm not making this up - requires the raider to hold his breath when he runs into the opposition half to tag the other team. He even has to chant 'kabaddi, kabaddi' with his exhaling breath to prove he's not cheating. Would I watch Kabaddi again? I would now.


Following in the footsteps of the GOAT

It's been a big week for that touchy subject of politics seeping into sport. While some want a distinct church-and-state-like division between the subjects, recent events in the United States have rendered that impossible.

And nor should they be separate - athletes are social leaders and, for better or worse, are bigger role models for the next generation than those found in any other profession. Issues prevalent in modern sport - race, gender, inequality - are all reflective of society as a whole.

So it was a welcome sight this week when four of the best-known basketball players in the world teamed up and used their commanding platform to campaign for change.

Carmelo Anthony, Chris Paul, Dwyane Wade and LeBron James took the stage together to kick off the ESPYS - the American sporting Oscars - and urged their peers to take a greater social stand.

"Generations ago, legends like Jesse Owens, Jackie Robinson, Muhammad Ali ... set a model for what athletes should stand for," said Paul, the Los Angeles Clippers point guard. "So we choose to follow in their footsteps."

After a spate of high-profile and racially divisive shootings in Baton Rouge, Orlando and Dallas, such a stand was both timely and probably overdue, although James, unlike the politically-agnostic Michael Jordan, has long spoken out, particularly on issues of race.

"Tonight we're honouring Muhammad Ali, the GOAT," James said at the awards. "But to do his legacy any justice, let's use this moment as a call to action to all professional athletes to educate ourselves, explore these issues, speak up, use our influence and renounce all violence and, most importantly, go back to our communities, invest our time, our resources, help rebuild them, help strengthen them, help change them. We all have to do better."

And then, on the flipside, there's what happened at baseball's All Star game, showing just one small example of the monumental ground that must still be made.

Also given an immense platform - although certainly not expected to use it to deliver any message - singer Remigio Pereira decided to wade into the race debate in spectacularly stupid fashion. Performing O, Canada before the game with his group The Tenors, Pereira altered the lyrics of the national anthem to include the line, "We're all brothers and sisters. All lives matter to the great", accompanying the melody with a handy sign for added ignorance.

The problem, of course, being the reference to 'All lives matter', used by opponents and critics of the Black Lives Matter movement. As one Twitter user explained, someone retorting with 'All lives matter' is like going to a doctor with a broken arm and having him respond 'All bones matter'. Yes, that is true, but you should probably just focus on what needs repairing right now.

And, boy, does it need repairing. Hopefully the likes of James can help action some meaningful change to back up the words, and hopefully idiots like Pereira can recognise the problem with ignoring the problem.

Athletes and fans alike want to catch 'em all

Well, after such a weighty issue, it must be time to talk some Pokemon. Like race, the other hot-button issue earning global attention this week has also permeated the sporting world, with teams and athletes who have nothing better to do being swept up in the Pokemon Go craze.

The Sacramento Kings were eager to inject themselves into the hype, announcing they would be the first NBA team to hold a Pokemon Go meet, allowing players and fans to gather together at the team's arena and catch some of the little creatures.

That was probably a more suitable avenue for engagement than what Rudy Gobert chose, being one of countless employees around the world being snapped playing the game while they should be working. For the Utah Jazz centre, that meant catching Pokemon while sitting courtside at a Summer League game in Las Vegas, tweeting about his find and saying, "I'm coming out of my retirement as a Pokemon trainer. It's time to get my throne back."

And, to the surprise of absolutely no one, minor league baseball teams - the thirstiest of all sporting outfits - have been quick to capitalise on the craze. The Midland RockHounds and Durham Bulls took less than a week to announce Pokemon Go promotions at the ballpark, offering fans a chance to go on the field before first pitch and catch all the Pokemon their hearts desire.

Sporting stadiums are apparently rich hunting ground for whatever it is Pokemon actually are, having already been spotted at the stadiums of the Panthers, Brewers and Redskins, among others. And you just know this means it's a matter of time before a fan runs on the field mid-game in a valiant attempt to catch 'em all.

Portugal's Cristiano Ronaldo holds the trophy after winning the Euro 2016 final soccer match between Portugal and France at the Stade de France. Photo / AP
Portugal's Cristiano Ronaldo holds the trophy after winning the Euro 2016 final soccer match between Portugal and France at the Stade de France. Photo / AP

3 Memorable sporting tear-jerkers

The odds on Cristiano Ronaldo shedding tears during the European Championship final must have been high. He cries when he wins, like after shepherding Manchester United to Champions League glory in 2008, and he cries when he loses, like after being defeated by Greece in the Euro 2004 final. And there's nothing wrong with that. Sport is filled with so much false machismo, it's a welcome sight when athletes shed the charade and show real emotion. And, after Ronaldo did just that following Portugal's win over France, the following three examples prove exactly that.

1 Michael Jordan

Before Crying Jordan there was Michael Jordan crying. The man who spawned a million memes when the waterworks flowed during his Hall of Fame speech, Jordan's fourth NBA championship was among the most poignant moments in sports history. Having retired from basketball following his father's murder, pursuing the baseball dream he shared with his dad, Jordan's first season back in the NBA culminated with a title on Father's Day - and plenty of tears.

2 Roger Federer

For all Federer's successes, he is equally remembered for a setback. After losing the 2009 Australian Open final against Rafael Nadal, Federer broke down on centre court during the trophy ceremony. Critics thought it a display of the man's arrogance; the more humane couldn't help but feel for him. "You get emotional because the fans are into it and you feel like you're so close," Federer said, "and all of a sudden you realise you're so far."

3 Derek Redmond

A few weeks away from the Olympics, those who question the event's merit - *raises hand* - can be pointed towards Derek Redmond's 400m semifinal in 1992. Down the back straight, the British sprinter's hamstring tore, sending him tumbling to the ground in pain. But he waved off the stretcher bearers and, with his father rushing to his side, hobbled the rest of the race in tears to earn the greatest DQ in Olympic history.

- NZ Herald

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