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A big-time sport now

A big-time sport now
Highlights

With the women’s cricket world cup done and dusted with, the timing seems perfect for another exhilarating sport to take over and dominate the popularity charts for the next 13 weeks. Ironically, to passionate fans of this exciting discipline, cricket and tennis hold little or no significance. 

With the women’s cricket world cup done and dusted with, the timing seems perfect for another exhilarating sport to take over and dominate the popularity charts for the next 13 weeks. Ironically, to passionate fans of this exciting discipline, cricket and tennis hold little or no significance.

The biggest revolution in Indian sport in the past five years has been the phenomenal growth of a robust sport like kabaddi, which has an overbearing Indian flair to it. It will not be an exaggeration if one were to conclude that Pro Kabaddi League (PKL) is next only to the runaway success called Indian Premier League (IPL), which, given its cricketing equation, is understandable. PKL also brings along high-voltage excitements and evokes emotional upheavals of varying kinds.

An ambitious initiative conceptualised by Mashal Sports, the fifth edition of which gets underway in Hyderabad on Friday, PKL has been hailed as a life-giver to the rugged sport, whose popularity was more or less restricted to the interiors and semi-urban regions of the country.

In a way, PKL has achieved something bigger than the IPL at least on two counts. For one, the penetration of PKL into newer areas has been of such a high magnitude that even urban India has been caught in the kabaddi frenzy whereas IPL has not actually drawn the attention of the non-cricket folks. If anything, it is the presence of film stars and industry captains that has increased the viewership for IPL.

The aspect where PKL may outscore the cricketing original is in the composition. Following an unprecedented and never dying interest, and with more and more sponsors and business houses evincing interest in being associated with the sport, PKL is to get bigger than the biggest of Indian extravaganzas.

Buoyed by the spectator turnout at the stadiums and the rise in viewership for live telecasts, a bigger presence is in store from this season. From what was an eight-team affair till date, the fifth edition will see a fight among 12 teams, something which even IPL cannot boast of, at least not till date.

Another unique aspect about PKL is that it has made millionaires of players from outright lower strata. Today, the exploits of raider extraordinaire Rahul Choudhary are discussed in urban households. PKL spells big bucks, though not as high as cricket. Even otherwise, prize-money of Rs 8 crore and the eventual winner pocketing a cool Rs 3 crore, speaks volumes about its reach.

The Most Valuable Player of the tournament will be richer by Rs 15 lakh, an amount that kabaddi players would not have dared dream till five years ago. What makes PKL as a standout event is that it has been able to survive and sustain its popularity in cricket-mad India.

Speaking comparatively, IPL takeoffs in more popular disciplines like badminton, tennis, hockey, volleyball and basketball have floundered because of the inability to bring in the crowds. Nor could they woo sponsors and sports broadcasters. Indeed, Brand PKL, which is patronised by both business houses and tinsel town celebrities, is here to stay!

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