Pink is the new colour of Kabaddi. The colour, associated with sensitivity, tenderness and femininity is definitely in stark contrast to the indigenous game which has its origins dating to the pre historic times. On 31 August, when Jaipur Pink Panthers clawed U-Mumba during a nail biting finale of the Star Sports Pro Kabaddi League, the highly agile and contact sport was covered in Pink and announced its presence on the world stage.
The Star Sports Pro Kabaddi League (PKL) which spanned 37 days and 60 matches, finally culminated at the National Sports Complex of India, Mumbai, the very same venue where the seeds of the game were first sown. While the Abhishek Bachchan-owned Jaipur Pink Panthers lifted the coveted trophy, the Ronnie Screwvala-owned U-Mumba team had to be content with the second spot.
While many, including advertisers were skeptical whether the league would be able to generate audience’s interest both at the stadiums and on TV, the results are all out for the world to see. Not just male audiences, but women and children lapped up the game as they came in full gear supporting their respective teams with flags and merchandise. Families from Patna to Vizag, filled the stadiums with not just their presence but also their loud chants, enthusiasm, glee and even disappointment when their teams had to bid farewell. People connected to every raid taken by the 24 year old Jaipur Pink Panthers’ captain Maninder Singh. Players like him and U-Mumba captain Anup Kumar have a new-found fan base now. The last time when such enthusiasm was showcased was probably at the Wankhede stadium for India’s first love-Cricket.
During the opening night 66 million Indians tuned in to watch the games on Star Sports and Star Gold claims the channel. On the micro blogging site Twitter, Star said it had generated conversations that were trending for nearly two days.
No one but Star India, businessman Anand Mahindra and promoter Charu Sharma could have augured the path that Kabaddi has taken today. When Star India COO Sanjay Gupta earlier said that the sport would fit their objective of transforming the sports landscape in India, he was right. India seems to have found its second sport.
The league proves that with a balanced mix of corporate backing, government support, telecast backing combined with international quality production values and celebrity endorsement, a lost game can draw renewed crowds to the stadium or tune in their TV sets. Therefore, it’s hardly a surprise that restaurants, bars and lounges had their customers asking for Kabaddi to witness the performance of 96 of the world’s best Kabaddi players. A few parents who complained that their kids were turning into couch potatoes are smiling, since their kids are now in the open playing the game.
This has been driven by celebrities/owners of teams including Aamir Khan, Amitabh Bachchan, Shahrukh Khan, Sachin Tendulkar and Aishwarya Rai Bachchan who pledged their support to the games by being present at the venue.
All in all, we eagerly wait to wear our favourite T-shirts at the next edition of the league beginning in March 2015 (hope the advertisers are listening!).