No Indian summer, but just try stopping the sub-continent’s answer to rugby

As Denmark prepares for the start of its first ever Kabaddi World Cup on Saturday, the head of its federation predicts a bright future for the wrestling-based contact sport

The sport of kabaddi is not exactly well known in Europe. Nevertheless, Denmark is putting its final preparations together for the national team to compete in the third Kabaddi World Cup in Punjab from December 1-15. A modest 15 teams (that include Norway, Italy, England and Scotland) will compete for the title, which comes with it a healthy 500,000-dollar first prize.

That’s a lot of cash for a sport that no-one seems to have heard of. However, it is not the first time Europe has been exposed to the incognito activity. It first emerged at the Berlin Olympics of 1936 where it was showcased before being named an official sport at the Calcutta Indian Olympics two years later.

Since then, kabaddi has only really thrived in Asia, but with great success. So much so that it was named the national game of Bangladesh in 1972. However, in Europe, the game never seemed to catch on. It was in fact only discovered two years ago by Allan Bo Jakobsen, the first ever head of the Danish Kabaddi Federation.

“It was all very haphazard,” Jakobsen explained. “I was in Iran on business and was randomly invited to a kabaddi game. But the minute I saw it, I was completely captivated.”

What drew Jakobsen to the sport was the game’s mix of simplicity and high strategy. Circle kabaddi − one of the many variations of the sport, which is the type of kabaddi preferred in Punjab − can almost be described as an adult form of ‘tag’.

Two teams of ten are separated by a line running across a circle that has a circumference of 30 metres, and they take turns (as ‘raiders’) to run into the opposing side to ‘tag’ an opponent and sprint back into their own half without getting wrestled to the floor.

“Yes, it looks simple on the surface,” Jakobsen admitted. “But when you start to take raider techniques into account and how to counter them, it very quickly becomes a tactical game of deception.”

Another deceptive aspect of kabaddi is that the sport is actually played all over Europe. But, as the head of Danish kabaddi points out, you just have to know where to look.

“I looked into it when I got back from my Iranian trip, and I found to my great surprise that the game was played by a great number of Asian immigrants in this country,” Jakobsen said.

Introducing Danes to the grassroots sport proved problematic to start with, but it wasn’t long before kabaddi’s popularity started to grow, especially among women.

So much so that, out of the ten athletes travelling to Punjab with the woman’s kabaddi team, only two of them are ethnically Asian. The rest are blonde and blue-eyed Danes. Half the men’s team are also ethnic Danes.

However the real success in Jakobsen’s eyes has nothing to do with how many ethnic Danes are on the team. To him, it is the simple fact that the game is culturally merging different nationalities together through the common love of the sport.

“We live in a globalising world,” Jakobsen explained. “And while some focus on the differences between cultures, I focus on the similarities. And sport is one big similarity we all seem to share.”

But while Jakobsen firmly believes in the utopian power of Kabaddi, he also admits that the sport would never have gained the momentum it has in Denmark, had it not been for him.

“No. Kabaddi would probably not have had the same success here, had it not been run by a Dane,” Jakobsen said. “If I were Pakistani or Iranian, the sport would most likely have been ignored by other Danes. It’s sad but true.”

No sport exists without controversy. And while breaking cultural barriers may be difficult enough as it is, the plethora of doping cases against athletes at last year’s Kabaddi World Cup left an ugly smear on the growing sport.

At last year’s Kabaddi World Cup, a total of 53 out of 220 athletes tested positive for performance-enhancing drugs. This revelation caused India’s national anti-doping agency to publically announce it was “shocked by the high number of positive cases”. Players from Britain, the US, Italy, Spain, Australia, Norway, Germany, Argentina, India and Pakistan were all accused of doping and barred from further participation in the event.

“That was a very unfortunate thing to have happened,” Jakobsen admitted. “But I can state with total confidence that Denmark’s national men’s and women’s teams are 100 percent clean.”

However, when asked if he, as the head of the Danish Kabaddi Federation, routinely carried out doping tests amongst his Danish athletes, he said no.

“We don’t have the financial means to carry out those types of check-ups,” Jakobsen confessed. “But all professional Danish kabaddi athletes have signed contracts in which it’s made very clear that any form of drug-taking is completely illegal.”

Then again, with Scandinavians been statistically ranked among the tallest in the world (according to the Journal of Annals of Human Biology), Danish players may already have an unfair advantage over their international opponents.

“Not at all,” Jakobsen said. “Technique is what rules in kabaddi. Size doesn’t matter.”

With the powerhouses of kabaddi competing in the forms of Pakistan, India and Iran, Jakobsen doesn’t feel that the men’s team has much of a chance. However, Jakobsen is quietly confident that the women’s team has an outside chance of competing for top honours.

“I think we can really create a stir at this year’s World Cup, but it’d be a dream to win it,” Jakobsen said. “However, we’re no tourists. We know what we’re doing and will look forward to every game. But it’s also about keeping your feet firmly planted on the ground.”

As for the future of European kabaddi, Jakobsen feels that its growing popularity will continue but insists that fans will have to be patient. For, while the sport is making some headway in Denmark, Jakobsen thinks other countries haven’t tried hard enough to integrate the sport into local culture.

“Norway for example hasn’t really been able to get an ethnic mix of Asians and Norwegians in their team,” Jakobsen said. “And that’s a shame. If we don’t use these kinds of sports to help integrate a society, then we’ll only end up with small foreign teams in foreign countries. That’s not integration. That’s isolation.”

An astute observation, perhaps … or maybe just the first signs of a Scandinavian rivalry seeping through ahead of the World Cup?

None of the Danish broadcasters currently have plans to show the Kabaddi World Cup, but streaming is possible via PTC News at, and also The men’s first game is against England on Sunday at 11:30am. Anyone interested in getting involved in the sport should contact Allan Bo Jakobsen on 4733 3498 or visit the Facebook page Kabaddi Denmark.

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