Reported by Stuart Neatby
Though few Canadian players participate in kabaddi, the national sport for thousands of Punjabi residents in the Lower Mainland, the sport is hugely popular in the Indo-Canadian community.
The sport, which combines elements of rugby and wrestling, is popular throughout India, where the 2016 Kabaddi World Cup is currently taking place.
The modern conception of kabaddi was created in the 1930s and the sport first gained international exposure in 1936 Summer Olympics in Berlin.
Although it may be a niche sport in North America, kabaddi also has a huge fan base in the Lower Mainland, where local matches in the summer draw crowds as high as 25,000.
Lack of local players for kabaddi
Most players in local matches are professional players from India. Jessy Sahota is one of only two Canadian-born players in the National Kabaddi Association of Canada (NKAC) league.
“It’s our parents, our community, our neighbours that are organizing these huge events, with huge prize money. And basically none of our kids are playing in them,” said Sahota, who plays for the Young Kabaddi Club.
Raising funds for local matches
Parminder Thind, who plays for the rival team, Vancouver Kabaddi Club, grew up in India but now lives in the Lower Mainland. He believes the lack of local players is due to a lack of coaches not being interested in Canadian-born players.
“We actually told our committee that they should start coaching here,” Thind said. “They were like ‘No, (the coaches) are not interested in Vancouver players. They like the super international players from India.’”
According to Baljit Sahota, president of the Vancouver Kabaddi Club, who organizes a kabaddi tournament at Memorial Park each summer, local business owners invest thousands of dollars into clubs to pay players and among other expenses. The Vancouver Kabaddi Club usually raises $300,000 each year.
Jessy Sahota has attempted to fill the gap in local coaching opportunities. Last summer, he began a training program for young players. He hopes that one or two will compete professionally next season.
“Nothing compares to kabaddi. Every 30 seconds, there’s something crazy happening,” he said.