In times of F1, Punjab talked kabaddi

Chandigarh, Nov 13 (IANS) At a time when Delhi was going ga-ga over Formula 1, Punjab was on a different track that was perhaps little noticed by the rest of India. The state was busy trying to promote its traditional game kabaddi and, as is typical here, even created a political controversy around it.

Around the time late last month when the likes of ace Red Bull driver Sebastian Vettel and Ferrari's Fernando Alonso were scorching the race tracks in excess of 300 km per hour on the Budh International Circuit in Greater Noida, the Punjab government put up its mega show in the form of World Cup Kabaddi with great fanfare.

At the opening ceremony in Bathinda town in southwest Punjab, the likes of Bollywood superstar Shah Rukh Khan and others were in attendance, along with scores of dancers. Khan was reportedly paid crores for his less than an hour performance at the event. He was specially flown into Bathinda, even getting a defence ministry permission, for his chartered flight.

The multi-crore rupee opening ceremony was executed on the lines of the inaugural show of last year's Commonwealth Games (CWG) in New Delhi.

While Punjab's Deputy Chief Minister Sukhbir Singh Badal, who is also the state's sports minister, wants the world, especially Punjab, to believe that the government is spending crores to popularise kabaddi, it is no secret that the 20-day event, which ends with a gala closing at Ludhiana Nov 20, is being held with an eye on assembly elections likely in February-March next year.

Badal, the man behind World Cup Kabaddi, wants the world to believe that teams from 14 countries are participating in the event.

'My aim to give international recognition to Punjab's traditional game kabaddi has been partially achieved as 14 countries are participating in second edition of World Cup Kabaddi and four countries are participating in Women World Cup Kabaddi,' Badal said.

But the opposition is hardly amused.

Former chief minister and Punjab Congress president Amarinder Singh lashed out at Chief Minister Parkash Singh Badal and his son Sukhbir Badal for presiding over 'the semi-nude dance by semi-nude women in Bathinda (at the opening ceremony) in the name of kabbadi'.

Calling it a 'shameless act', Amarinder said: 'This is only a show for Sukhbir's personal survival where he has crossed all the limits of modesty for gathering crowds to satisfy his ego. The teams participating in the tournament are not representing their countries and have not been recognised by their respective governments.'

A look at the composition of most teams - from US, Britain, Australia, Norway to others - clearly revealed that majority of the participating players were youths of Punjabi origin settled in those countries. While some of the countries do not even recognise kabaddi as a sport, the participating teams had no official recognition at all to represent those countries. Some of the teams were not even regular club sides for kabaddi in those countries.

Badal junior's justification that he was trying to get the youth of Punjab attracted to the traditional game to keep them away from rampant drug abuse too seems to have backfired.

Nearly one-fourth of the participating players, whose samples were randomly picked up by anti-doping experts, turned out to be positive and the players had to be suspended from the tournament. These players have been found taking performance enhancing drugs and steroids.

Amarinder questioned Sukhbir Badal for organising the games in the first place.

'Sukhbir is organising the kabaddi world cup as a campaign for personal promotion on the eve of elections. Otherwise, what was the need of bringing in superstars to promote a game which, according to Sukhbir, is already so popular among the people?' he asked.

(Jaideep Sarin can be contacted at jaideep.s@ians.in)