Plans are afoot to stage a full-fledged professional kabaddi league in Pakistan in the near future. If successful, the league is likely to provide the sport with a new lease of life.

In the capitalist sports environment it is now difficult to develop a sport discipline without professional leagues. Commercialism in sports is a recent phenomenon as a few decades ago sports were organised purely on amateur lines. And even in professional sports the sum of money at stake was negligible.

The commercial aspect in sports has made the field very attractive not only for the players but also for the businesses which invest heavily in the sector. But Pakistan is well behind in the race as we have just started our professional cricket league (PSL) which has gained popularity within a short space of three years.

But going for holding pro league of any other sport discipline in Pakistan seems to be a suicidal act for the organisers as we have seen that corporate sector does not take interest in sports here other than cricket. But despite all fears, there are some people who want to prove this notion wrong.

Haider Ali Khan Daud, head of Strawberry Sports Management, is going to hold franchise-based pro kabaddi league named Super Kabaddi League (SKL) in near future. The planned league has also been endorsed by the International Kabaddi Federation (IKF). And Pakistan Kabaddi Federation (PKF) has already been written by the international body in this regard.

Pakistan has a strong standing in the kabaddi world. National players have been seen playing in the world’s leading leagues over the years. When India started its pro kabaddi league a few years ago it also carried Pakistani players for a few seasons but due to political tension between the neighbouring nations Pakistani players are not being invited now. In the first season of the SKL too there will be no Indian player.

The SKL organisers are going to hold the first edition in Lahore as Punjab is considered the nursery of the game, with the country’s great players coming from that zone.

The SKL will also carry foreign players which will add to the beauty of the inaugural season.

‘The News on Sunday’ spoke to Haider Ali Khan Daud about the league. Some of the excerpts of his interview are given bellow.

TNS: When are you going to hold Super Kabaddi League (SKL)?

Daud: SKL will begin in April this year. From April 22, it will run till May 6.

TNS: You had planned it last year but then it was not held. What was the reason?

Daud: Last year unplanned cricket events took place which made it difficult to get live TV coverage for SKL. Since we want it to be a world-class event that is broadcast live we had to reschedule the things.

TNS: How many franchises will field their teams in the first season and can you mention their names and their owners’ names?

Daud: There will be eight teams. We will disclose complete details by the end of March.

TNS: Can you share some aspects of the deal you have made with the franchises?

Daud: Franchises represent long-term ownership rights of kabaddi teams at SKL based around regions of Pakistan.

TNS: How many foreign players do you expect to be part of the event?

Daud: One or two players per team at least.

TNS: When will be the players’ auction held?

Daud: There shall be a players’ draft in early April.

TNS: Can you share something about players’ incentives?

Daud: Players shall be divided into three categories as per experience and skill. Each category shall have separate incentives.

TNS: Why did you go for organising SKL? Will it not be difficult to hold it in a cricket-mad country where corporate sector does not take much interest in other sports?

Daud: SKL represents kabaddi that is part and parcel of our culture. Pakistan may be a cricket-crazy nation but we have faith that we can overcome the challenge of people’s perception that we are a one-sport nation. We have faith in kabaddi overtaking cricket in viewership in years to come. Kabaddi is a global sport, with over 40 playing nations. In any case, it’s not a zero sum game. Evidence from across the world including India suggests that multiple sports can grow simultaneously.

TNS: This time you are going to hold it in Lahore? What other areas are on your radar for holding future editions?

Daud: Faisalabad, Islamabad, Multan, Karachi. There is a likelihood of more than one venue per edition in future.

TNS: You also plan leagues in other sports disciplines? Can you give some details about that?

Daud: We are also launching international leagues for football, volleyball and wrestling. Slowly and steadily the various sports leagues are going to usher in dawn of a multi-sport culture in Pakistan. The appeal for sports is established. Every soul wants to play.

If successful SKL would bring a revolution in kabaddi in Pakistan. It would not only unearth hidden talent but would also provide the budding youth a great learning platform which would help the country in future.

Well-acquainted with the culture of the rural areas of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa I can say that kabaddi can pull bigger crowds than cricket does. I have seen thousands of people watch local tournaments which are usually organised there in the afternoon. Although Punjab deserves to host SKL I would suggest to the organisers to also keep eye on Bannu and Peshawar, which have thousands of die-hard followers of the game. Holding some matches in Sindh too would be a good idea.