Exclusive: Ultimate Kho Kho League will revolutionise Kho Kho the way PKL transformed Kabaddi, says KKFI Gen Secy

Avinash Sharma

New Delhi, Nov 18: Kho Kho has been one of the oldest traditional sports of India but this fast-paced contact team sport. Almost everyone must have played this game in their childhood but just like Kabaddi, the indigenous sport lost its charm and only remains in their memories.

Kabaddi, however, revamped itself after the advent of Pro Kabaddi League and it certainly changed the perception of the people towards this sport.

As per BARC India, PKL 7, which concluded in October, registered a growth of nine per cent in viewership numbers and has garnered 1.2 billion impressions. Its official broadcaster, Star India is likely to earn Rs 200 to 230 crore from Season 7 and the players are also early decently from the franchise-based league.

Now, the Kho Kho Federation of India (KKFI) also wants to replicate a similar show by introducing a franchise-based Kho Kho league. KKFI has also started inviting teams from neighbouring countries to train players, as well as, coaches to help them get better.

In a telephonic interview with MyKhel, Mr MS Tyagi, General Secretary KKFI, explained at length about the federations future plans and the delay behind the proposed league. Here are the excerpts:

Mykhel: How satisfied is the federation with the journey of the sport so far and what steps are you going to take Kho Kho to the next level?

MS Tyagi: Look, initially, we have all faced hurdles in the promotion of the game. Whosoever has worked in the past for the sport, has promoted the game in their own capacity and it has mainly been through word of mouth. But the federation has understood that now one needs modern tools like social media and electronic media to promote the game. So the federation, under the leadership of our president Sudhanshu Mittal and chairman Rajeev Mehta, has decided to explore the ways such tools could be utilised to promote the sport.

Apart from that, it has also been decided to incorporate the use of the latest equipment and gadgets to revolutionise the game to change people's perception towards Kho Kho. We are now thinking about the safety measures by introducing proper mats so the players sustain least injuries while playing. We are also brainstorming on the ways of giving it a more appealing look that can help us pitch it globally.

Our second priority is the welfare of the players and we are working on making their life better. Recently, in our General Body Meeting, we have decided to provide a sum of Rs 75000/month to the States and Rs 50000/month to the Union Territories to spend on the welfare of the players.

MK: How are you proposing to promote the game at the grassroots level?

Tyagi: In the General Body Meeting, the federation announced providing extra monetary help to the states that will promote the sport more at district-level. The state that will get more players registered under it will get the financial assistance in a similar ratio. Since then, the states associations have assured us that they'll work vigorously.

MK: How are you planning to pitch the sport at the global level?

Tyagi: We are travelling various South-Asian countries for the promotion of the sport and we are also providing them with the basic equipment from our side to set up the infrastructure for the game.

Out of a friendly gesture, we have sent mats to countries like UAE, Kuwait, Singapore, Pakistan, Nepal and Bangladesh to promote the game. We hope that these young kids in these countries will take up Kho Kho as a sport.

We are also inviting players from Nepal, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka to train under the watchful eyes of our experienced coaches. The players from all these countries are improving their performance by learning the techniques.

We are also sending our coaches to various countries to train their players and coaches. Once that is achieved we'll organise Test matches between our teams and these countries. That way, our players will be able to get more match-practice and prepare for major tournaments.

Apart from that, we have urged the office bearers at our international headquarters in London to chart out a plan and promote the game in European countries as well.

MK: You just mentioned about inviting players from other countries and training them. What is the reason behind this gesture? How is it going to help Indian Kho-Kho and the sport as a whole?

Tyagi: The main idea behind this move is creating interest in the game in such countries, and these countries would, in turn, promote the game further. We want these countries to organise Kho Kho championships at clubs, state, and at the national level. In the larger picture, once this game starts getting played seriously in at least 50 countries then we can pitch to get it recognised for Asian Games, Commonwealth Games and Olympic Games. Kho Kho was recognised at the Asian Games 2018 in Jakarta but it still has a long way to go to make its debut in the Asiad.

Once the game makes its way to the Asiad or CWG, I am sure our players would settle for nothing but a gold medal. That would further popularise the sport in the country and the players could also get job security.

At present, the players who have represented India in Kho Kho at national and international level have little job assurance like other sports. Currently, Railways, BSF and Airport Authority of India are the only ones employing Kho Kho players, but that number is too less.

Once the corporate, as well as, the government sector start giving more jobs to Kho Kho players under sports quota, their lives will change for good. The public-private engagement needs to improve.

MK: What has been the role of the Sports Ministry and Sports Authority of India (SAI) in promotion of the game?

Tyagi: The attitude of the Sports Ministry and SAI has been very encouraging in recent times. To prepare for the upcoming South Asian Games, the SAI has provided the players with a place to live and practice in the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium. They are doing to the best of their capability for the upkeep of our players so we are thankful to them.

MK: Pro Kabaddi League has made giant strides in the last five years and it has revolutionised the game of Kabaddi. It is now the most-watched non-cricketing tournament in the country. When are you going to launch the Ultimate League to revamp the sport?

Tyagi: Yes, we have delayed a bit but we have taken a leaf out of Pro Kabaddi's leaf and are going to launch 'Ultimate Kho-Kho League' next year. It will be a franchise-based eight-team affair and begin in the month of February-March next year. We are still in talks with the TV channels for the broadcast rights and we'll make the announcement once it gets finalised. We have witnessed the rise in the popularity of Kabaddi in recent years and are looking to replicate the same for Kho Kho.

The Ultimate League is a new avatar of Kho Kho and has been designed to be exciting and fast-paced filled with high-octane action. To make it more compact, action-oriented and energetic, two minutes have been waived off from the original 9 minutes of play in an innings and the duration of each turn will now be of 7 minutes in the new format bringing in more strategic game-play. With 4 turns in 2 innings per match, the 28 minute-match promises to keep the spectators on tenterhooks.

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