On Sunday, India's kabaddi team lost their vice-like grip on the Kabaddi World Cup, losing a thrilling final 43-41 to Pakistan in Lahore. Pakistan's Prime Minister Imran Khan, himself a World Cup winner in cricket, tweeted his congratulations to the team on their historic success.
Congratulations to the Pakistan Kabbadi team for winning the Kabbadi World Cup after defeating India.
- Imran Khan (@ImranKhanPTI) February 17, 2020
This didn't go down well with India's sports minister Kiren Rijiju, who on Monday asked the Amateur Kabaddi Federation of India (AKFI) to launch an enquiry into the Indian team's "unauthorised" participation in the World Cup.
This is all a storm in a teacup because, to begin with, this World Cup is in a different format from the one that AKFI oversees. While the standard-style World Cup started in 2004, it has only had three editions so far. This circle-style World Cup, which began in 2010, saw its seventh edition conclude with the Indian team failing to win the final for the first time. It was also the first World Cup held outside India. And, as the Indian team's promoter Davinder Singh Bajwa himself told PTI, this was not an official tournament; the Indian team had actually gone as part of Sikhism founder Guru Nanak Dev's 550th birth anniversary celebrations.
Wait, so there are two World Cups we need to follow?
It depends -- if you are a fan of the Pro Kabaddi League (PKL), then the circle-style format may not interest you much. It borrows generously from wrestling and, in fact, owes a massive amount of its popularity among Punjabis either side of the border, and among diaspora, to its origin as a sport of the villages.
For Punjabis, there's a special emotional connect at play too -- the Sikh gurus were said to be great proponents of keeping their troops fit by playing kabaddi on a regular basis. It is a sport funded well by Punjabis living around the globe -- there was even a televised version in Britain some years ago, that first led to a rise in popularity and curiosity among locals. It has given rise to a plethora of superstars from south Asia who play tournaments around the globe through the year, and get paid handsomely, often in kind. A good raid might get a patron to gift you a tractor, which would be over and above prize money.
What role does the AKFI play?
AKFI controls standard-style kabaddi in India, and their officials call the shots in world kabaddi. Standard-style is what you see at the Asian Games. The circle-style World Cup still gets participation from teams around the world, and these are not teams with expatriate Indians and Pakistanis alone representing them.
The Pakistan World Cup had Iran, Australia, Canada, Azerbaijan, England, Germany and Sierra Leone participating -- Kenya withdrew at the last minute -- and this event has seen the likes of Denmark, Sweden, Italy, Sri Lanka and U.S.A participate in the past.
AKFI and the International Kabaddi Federation (IKF) made it clear at the start of this World Cup that neither the tournament nor the Indian team was a recognised one.
Was Sunday's final a significant event?
That India's hold on the World Cup was broken would count as a significant moment in circle-style kabaddi history. In fact, when India hosted the fifth edition in December 2014, it was days after the conclusion of the first edition of the World Kabaddi League (WKL), with a lot of the same players returning for Pakistan, who played as Lahore Lions in the franchise-based league.
India won a close final 45-42, with a couple of close TV umpire calls going against Pakistan in the closing stages. Moreover, Pakistan captain and raider Shafiq Chishti, who was interviewed immediately afterwards, alleged misbehaviour by some of the officials, including a claim that his team had been refused water. He solemnly swore he would never return to play in India, and Pakistan stayed away from the 2016 edition in Punjab.
Chishti was part of the team that triumphed on Sunday, and this victory might have given him closure for the heartbreak of the 2014 final. That, and the prize purse of one crore (10 million) Pakistan rupees (approx. $65,000), would have made the effort worth it.
Either way, there will always be another World Cup, and another chance for India to reclaim the crown. And until then, fans can look forward to the next standard-style World Cup.