Unsung champions of sand: India's women's beach kabaddi team

Mauritius Kabaddi Association

The Indian women's team came home with a gold medal at the International Beach Kabaddi Championship held in Mauritius last week.

Bet you didn't know that. Bet you didn't know about beach kabaddi either - or that India had a women's team?

The good news from this win - beating England 56-25 in a one-sided final - is that it might open doors for these players, not just in beach kabaddi but in the regular, more familiar version of the sport.

The tragedy of the sport is that despite all its successes - for example, Indian women have won gold at the Asian Beach Games for the past five years - women's kabaddi remains somewhat unacknowledged. Let's be honest, kabaddi in India is almost entirely identified with the men's team, especially with the increasing popularity of the Pro Kabaddi League (PKL) and India's World Cup track record.

"We should get recognition," says Payel Chowdhury, captain of the Indian team, whose day job is in the electrical department of the Indian Railways in Kolkata.

"Kabaddi in India isn't at a stage where we could play it full-time, irrespective of how much we love the sport. These leagues help in creating awareness about the sport."

Ejjapureddi Prasad Rao, the coach of the team, while echoing similar sentiments has a more optimistic view of things.

"I wouldn't say that they are unknown," says Ejjapureddi Prasad Rao. "I would say that it's still developing, but things are certainly looking up. It's just a matter of time that they too get the recognition that they rightfully deserve. I'm very proud of the girls."

One thing is clear: beach kabaddi is far more physically taxing than its famous version. The challenge for the players is to maintain their grip on the sandy surface which takes a lot of physical effort.

"It requires a lot of stamina, yes," says Payel. "If one knows how to play this form of kabaddi and is passionate enough about it, they can play anything."

Rao agrees: "Beach kabaddi requires a lot of work, both physically and mentally. They have six-member teams, as opposed to seven members in indoor kabaddi. The players play out in the sun without much protective equipment or shoes. It requires a lot of stamina."

"Once we are granted separate courts to play in, I feel that we can go beyond the popularity of men's kabaddi"

So, would a switch from beach to indoor kabaddi be difficult for the players? "No, it shouldn't be a very difficult transition. Indoor kabaddi, is in fact, a much more toned down and easy version of the game," says Rao.

Payel agrees: "I have played normal kabaddi as much as I've played beach kabaddi. We have been trained in a way that we know how to play in every circumstance."

Opportunities have been few but, with the emergence of Women's Kabaddi Challenge, a tournament started last year by the PKL, things have started looking up for the women players. The buzz is that the tournament will return this year, possibly in an expanded format.

"The Women's Kabaddi Challenge was something that we wanted to try. Even as we had just three teams participating in it, it did decently well. I think the day won't be far when the women have a league of their own," says Rao, who is also the technical director of the PKL.

Payel, however, believes that women's kabaddi can evolve only when it is played on a separate, specialised court. At present, despite the regulation size of the field being different for men (11x7m) and women (10x6m), the women most often have to play in the same field as the men.

"That affects our level of play as it becomes difficult for us to raid as the field is generally wider. The leagues have given us a new hope in terms of our future and once we are granted separate courts to play in, I feel that we can go beyond the popularity of men's kabaddi."