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New giant in world kabaddi

  • Published at 12:52 pm September 5th, 2018
South Korea first won a kabaddi medal at the Indoor Asian Games 2013 in Incheon, where Bangladesh didn’t take part, and Jo Hyuna and Lee Jangkun termed the achievement as the turning point of the country’s kabaddi AFP

This article was published in the September issue of the Sports Tribune Magazine

Bangladesh’s national sport, kabaddi is no more the game of sub-continent countries. 

India dominated the game since its inclusion in the Asian Games in 1990 with Bangladesh being the second best in the earlier editions. India won all seven gold medals without losing any right until the previous edition in 2014, but this time around, their men’s team didn’t even reach the final. 

This is also the first time both the Bangladesh men’s and women’s team got eliminated from the group stage.

Both the latest finalists of the Asiad 2018, Iran and South Korea beat India but even before that, the two countries already appeared as the new giants in world kabaddi, despite starting playing the game much later.

The new champion Iran’s intention of doing well in kabaddi was clear in the last three editions but when South Korea started playing kabaddi eight years ago, Bangladesh men’s team have not won a medal since then.

A conversation with South Korean kabaddi pair

South Korea started playing the game from 2010 and the men’s team captain, Lee Jangkun, and women’s side raider Jo Hyuna was part of the first batch of the country’s kabaddi team, and carried on to represent the national side till now.

The South Korean pair talked to Dhaka Tribune regarding their journey in the new game of kabaddi in their country and how they have progressed so far in only eight years.

Lee is a familiar name in West Bengal as he has been playing for Kolkata club Bengal Warriors in the Indian Pro-Kabaddi League for five years.

“Lee was a high-school student and I was reading in university. Both of our teachers, also kabaddi officials, introduced us to kabaddi. We trained for a few days and after that, we went to our first Asiad,” said Jo while Lee only nodded, and added one or two words.

Both the men’s and women’s kabaddi team finished fifth in their debut Asiad campaign in Guangzhou 2010. 

The teams continued their training, five times a week throughout the year and the men’s team saw immense progress in four years, outplaying Bangladesh en route to winning silver in Incheon 2014.

First impression while playing kabaddi

“It was tough but also very interesting. Sometimes, one just going and sometimes everybody going together,” said Jo, while Lee replied, “Everyone in the team holding hands together and doing defence all together, that was very charming point for me.”

Lee pointed out an interesting aspect of kabaddi that set the game apart from other sports. 

“We can get a point as defence. It is the specialty of the game,” said Lee.

There are two regular national kabaddi tournaments held in South Korea every year. Not many teams participate there but whoever does is serious about the game, and keeps practising regularly. The game is however, played in elementary school and universities and there are “lots of kabaddi players in the pipeline”.

Jo informed how much time they give to kabaddi. 

“The elite players like us, it’s like our job is playing kabaddi. Not very big salary but with little salary, we practise kabaddi every month, every week. Like five days every week and nine to 10 months every year,” said Jo.

Turning point

South Korea first won a medal at the Indoor Asian Games 2013 in Incheon, where Bangladesh didn’t take part. Jo and Lee termed the achievement as the turning point of the country’s kabaddi.

“From that time our kabaddi association literally grew up and our men’s team got a bronze medal at the 2014 Asiad. At that time, KOC (Korean Olympic Committee) supported many things. So our players have grown more from that time,” said Jo.

In two years’ time, South Korea started to threaten India’s dominance and beat them at their own venue during the 2016 World Cup, but beating India in Asian Games was like making history as it was the first defeat for India in Asia’s biggest multi-sports event.

About Bangladesh’s current poor state in kabaddi

“We think that may be some generation changing is not good,” said Jo before adding, “We read on some newspaper that Bangladesh kabaddi doesn’t get support so much. They couldn’t practise so well. They need some supports and they need some changing generation. Then they will get better later.”

Target towards the Olympics

Kabaddi was included at the Asiad in 1990 but it is yet to become one of the sports at the Olympics. Both Lee and Jo believe that kabaddi will become a part of the biggest multi-sports event in the world.

Jo sounded more confident. 

“We everybody say our goal is going to the Olympics, maybe in future when I will be a coach and our young players will go to the Olympics,” said Jo.

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