NEW DELHI: The Pro Kabaddi League has turned Anup Kumar, Rahul Chaudhari, Jasvir Singh into household names. Women have had to wait for their share of the spotlight, but finally, the Women’s Kabaddi Challenge has provided a fillip to the women’s game.
Played on a round-robin format, the league has three teams — Storm Queens, Fire Birds and Ice Divas — all captained by Arjuna Awardees and national team stars. Mamtha Poojari, Fire Birds skipper said, “Even though I am an Arjuna Awardee and multiple gold-winner, very few people knew me. With the inception of the league, people have started recognising me. It feels great.”
Hailing from a small village by the name of Hermunda in Karnataka’s Udipi district, Mamtha was never really interested in the sport. “I used to participate in athletics, long jump but never Kabaddi. One day, my college team faced a shortage of players and the coach asked me to fill in. The rest as they say is history!” she revealed. Set to quit studies, her exploits with the college team led to her admission in Mangalore University under sports quota. “The sport has given me everything in life.”
But it was not always a bed of roses. “Initially, my parents were unaware of the fact that I was playing. I used to return home with bruises and sores. My mother used to tell me nobody will marry a girl with cuts all over the body! Wearing shorts was another issue. Villagers and neighbours used to keep complaining to my parents. The entire village was more interested in my marriage than myself!” the 2014 Arjuna Awardee commented.
Everything changed in 2006. Representing the country for the first time at the 10th SAAF Games in Sri Lanka, she helped India clinch gold. “When I returned, the entire village came to receive me at the bus-stop! The village pradhan even told me that I put the village on the map. It was a very emotional moment. My house still has a paper cutting from the event. The village now has a Kabaddi club in my name,” said the beaming 30-year-old.