BANGALORE: Sunil Hanumanthappa has been playing kabaddi for the last 10 years. During his initial days, he started training with a club in Vijayanagar. Hailing from Tumkur, it was only three years ago that he started playing professional kabaddi and has participated in the National Junior Championships in 2010 and has secured a place in the Karnataka State team.
This year, the second year student got another big break as he was selected to be part of Bengaluru Bulls, the franchise from Bangalore in the Pro Kabaddi League.
The league, backed by the International Kabaddi Federation (IKF), the Asian Kabaddi Federation (AKF) and the Amateur Kabaddi Federation of India (AKFI), will feature eight teams from the country who will vie for the title. The tournament will travel to cities like Delhi, Kolkata, Jaipur, Patna, Vizag, Pune and will culminate with a final in Bangalore on August 31.
The Bengaluru Bulls team comprises some top-notch talent in the country. They are hoping for a successful campaign, beginning July 26 in Mumbai. Along with Sunil, who is the only one representing Karnataka, there’s 28 year old Ajay Thakur, who is considered one of the country's best raiders. Then there’s their captain, gold medalist Manjeet Chillar who has played at the Asian Indoor Games and the Asian Games. Defender, Gurpreet Singh, popularly called 'The Wall' boasts a Gold Medal at the 2004 National Championships and the 2010 South Asian Games. The policeman, has played kabaddi at the highest levels such as the National Championships and the South Asian Federation Games. The 12-member team also has three foreign players - Micheal Dubery from United Kingdom (Defender), I Ketut Ariana from Indonesia (Defender) and Sinotharan Kanesharajah from Sri Lanka (Raider).
"The indigenous sport of kabaddi, which probably is also the oldest, is definitely popular in the country," says Akhil Ranade from Kosmik Global Media, owner of Bengaluru Bulls. However, in the same breath he mentions that the game lacks the much-needed infrastructure and facilities. “Karnataka is only second in terms of participation, just after Maharashtra. There are over 300 registered clubs in the state. But we do not have great infrastructural facilities. Most importantly, there still exists the stigma that kabaddi is a ‘rural’ sport, it does not have an aspirational value unlike cricket or football.” But he is optimistic that the Pro Kabaddi League will change this mindset. The league games, which will be broadcast live by a prime TV channel, will definitely take the game to the masses, he believes.
“When it is on TV, it is recognised,” he asserts.
Coached by renowned player and coach, Randhir Singh, the team resides at a club on Mysore Road, away from city, so that they can prepare for the tournament and bond as a unit. Sunil says, “We start our training at six in the morning. We hit the gym and the pool. In the evening, our kabaddi training is from 5 to 7 pm when we also have running and stretching exercises.”
The team has the hope of lifting the title in the maiden year of the championship. But that is not all. Akhil reveals, “We want to become the most successful franchise in the tournament with a good, balanced team. Having said that, we want the team to be with us for the long haul. We also have plans of developing kabaddi in partnership with the regional State Federation. We will identify local talent and give them a platform where they can train and grow.”