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The Sports Search: Kabaddi

Taking tag to a whole new level…

A photo of a game of Kabaddi in India.

Welcome back to the Sports Search! On this journey of learning about unusual sports, I’ve come across a sport that involves the odd combination of boxing gloves and chess pieces and one where you’re not even allowed to see the ball that is in play. However, I have yet to dive into a sport that requires nothing at all.

Until today.

When there is no special field, fancy equipment, or even an object to play with, things can get interesting. All a player has to rely on are their arms, legs and desire to win. But this isn’t just any sport; It’s one that derives from a playground classic: tag. The pure adrenaline and passion that I used to play this game with in elementary school makes me think I definitely could have gone pro in any tag-related game. However, when I learned that running around is the most basic aspect of this sport and a failed dodge will probably leave you on the ground, I decided that I’m very happy being a fan.

Introducing… Kabaddi

Predictions

When asking around to see if anyone knew a sport that most people probably wouldn’t know, many of my friends who come from an Indian background told me I had to do Kabaddi, a very popular sport in India.

Obviously, being a sport with a non-English name, my job becomes a lot more difficult. As I briefly mentioned in my last article, America’s brave and bold sport naming system, usually including the word ‘ball’ and another arbitrary noun involved in the sport, makes guessing the nature of the sport fairly straightforward. However, I don’t have that luxury with this sport. So, in the interest of actually having content, I asked my friends to describe it in one word. The general consensus was tag. Now, that word alone brings flashbacks to my mind of simpler times and subconsciously makes my heart start pounding. Running across cement at what felt like lightning speeds, while dodging and weaving between hopeless taggers was certainly a highlight of my childhood. Man, I was good.

However, I have the feeling this sport involves more than just the simplicity of a childhood game. On the surface, it certainly has potential to follow traditional tag and be an individual sport, but I’m hoping it’s a team sport, as that would leave the door wide open for a whole new set of rules. Also, assuming it follows some form of tag, I’m guessing there is a countdown, and the goal is to get as many points in the allotted time as possible, whether that be through tagging people, avoiding getting tagged or some third goal of tag that I just can’t wrap my head around.

Other than that, I’m at a loss. This sport could honestly go in a million different directions, from being a free-for-all to carefully strategizing your sneak attack on the opposing team. And, there are probably a bunch of other rules I could never imagine. The main question I’m left wanting answers to is what constitutes a tag. Yes, I’m well aware that touching another person is a tag, but what if you swipe a piece of clothing? And how can the ref be sure someone was tagged in such a quick moment? I’ve got to believe they have some sort of instant replay booth with advanced tag verification technology.

Maybe I’m just overthinking this way too much…

The Rules

Ok, regular tag has been forever ruined for me because this is so cool!

Kabaddi is a tag-based sport that consists of two teams of seven players, each occupying one side of a 33ft x 43ft court. Games are played in 20-minute halves with a five-minute halftime in between. Kabaddi is played in individual attempts at scoring points, also known as raids (and isn’t that just the coolest name ever?) During these raids, the offensive team sends one member, the raider (oh heck yeah), to the other team’s side in what can only be described as a heroic attempt to tag as many of the opposing team as possible within a 30-second time limit. Their goal is to earn points by tagging players past what is known as the baulk line, a line that divides each team’s half in two. Each player tagged at the end of the round equals one point. For extra points, there is a bonus line which is just a few feet past the baulk line. Any tags made past that line result in double points. Seems fairly simple. That’s got to be all the rules, right?

Wrong. We are just getting started.

First, while the raider is attempting to tag the other players, they have to be able to return to their half of the field without being TACKLED!? Yeah, we definitely didn’t play with this rule in the third grade.

Once the attacker attempts to tag a player, whether successful or not, he becomes fresh meat in the eyes of the defense, as they find any way possible to bring him down before he can find the safety of his home base.

On top of all of that, the raider has to do their entire 30-second raid in one breath. To prove this is happening, they must chant kabaddi the entire time without inhaling. If they stop chanting at any time during their raid, they are out.

Talking about taking a deep breath.

If the raider is successfully tackled before getting back to their side of the court, the opposite team earns a point instead. However, if you get tagged or step out of bounds, you are out of the game and can only get back in through a “revival”, which comes from your team scoring a point through a tag or a tackle.

Raids are categorized by their success. One that scores no points is called an “empty raid”, one that scores three or more points is called a “super raid”, and one that gets all seven players out is called an “All Out”, which earns the attacking team two additional points.

Being a part of something called a “super raid”? That is definitely going on my bucket list.

History

Kabaddi has a relatively long history and has been greeted with incredible success across all of Asia. It is believed that this sport originated in ancient India during the Vedic period and saw its first organized competitions, in India, in the 1920s. Soon after, the Indian Olympic Games added Kabaddi to its list of sports in 1938 and the All-India Kabaddi Federation was founded in 1950.

Kabaddi took a large step in popularity and exposure when it was added to the Asian Games’ programme in 1990 and gained even more traction following the first Kabaddi World Cup in 2004. The Pro Kabaddi League, created in 2014, had 100 million viewers for their inaugural championship match. That’s equal to the amount of people who watched last year’s Super Bowl! Most recently, Pakistan barely beat out India in the 2020 Kabaddi World Cup with a score of 43-41.

Conclusion

Each time I take on this endeavor of finding sports unknown to me, I am always amazed and immensely grateful. There is no chance I would have heard of these sports elsewise. We (and by that I primarily mean me) get so caught up in the select few major sports in the United States and how our fantasy wide receiver did last night, that we miss out on the wonders of very popular sports around the globe.

There are way too many sports out there to ever learn them all, but within the few I’ve looked into, I’ve found some truly incredible ones. Sports that genuinely make me wish I grew up playing them and have found their way into my daily sports feed.

So, if I may impose my small amount of wisdom and learned experience on you, I would encourage you to check out new sports, even if it is just for a few minutes. Our love for sports all lie in the same foundations of fierce competition, crazy plays and victorious underdogs. I’ve found that all sports offer that, just in different formats.

Next time you are scrolling through the endless TV channels and see something you’ve never heard of, just click on it. What’s the worst that could happen?

I’ve done my part in learning about some new sports and now I’m asking you to try and do the same.

You might say I’m tagging you in…

OK OK, just go try it out.