New cars, tattoos: the lifestyles of the Kabbadi millionaires of India

NEW DELHI: Siddharth Desai He grew up in a humble environment, but now he lives the life of a millionaire athlete, drives an improved jeep and takes selfies with fans, and everything is thanks to kabaddi .

The old game has undergone a dazzling makeover through the Pro Kabaddi League ( PKL ), creating a new group of sports stars in a country traditionally obsessed with cricket.

Kabaddi, which roughly translates as holding hands, is a tag and rugby contact sport that is believed to have originated in the nation of South Asia thousands of years ago.

Siddharth and his elder brother Suraj Desai went from playing kabaddi in the dust in their village in the state of Maharashtra, to wrestling on indoor mats in front of a TV audience of millions.

Even if you work for 50 years of your life, you will never get a financial benefit like you do while playing one year of PKL, the 27-year-old raider, the proud owner of an orange-and-black 4x4 off -roader, told AFP.

No one knew me before the sixth season, but now people want to touch me, the media wants to interview me. People want to take selfies with me.

The franchise-based professional league was launched by Star Sports in 2014. The players were auctioned, as in the successful Indian Premier League (IPL) Twenty20 cricket tournament, with Bollywood companies and stars paying big players for their teams local or state. .

Siddharth, who was paid $ 50,000 last season with U Mumba, was snapped up by Telugu Titans for a record $ 201,444 this year. Together with endorsements, kabaddi has made him a wealthy man.

The village boy, who was once shy, now dreams of buying a new house where his parents and his married brother can enjoy the good things in life.

After the start of Pro Kabaddi everyone is looking at kabaddi at a career option, said Siddharth. Now I like to go indulge in my hobbies which include playing the guitar and music. I will probably get a tattoo done.

Kabaddi is a highly physical sport that requires teams to accumulate points by sending an assailant to the rival side to tag an opponent before returning to safety.

Traditionally, raiders chant kabaddi, kabaddi to prove they are only using one breath, although in the modern game they usually breathe freely.

Defending teams can also accumulate points by preventing the assailant from escaping from his half of the court, often with tackles and bumps with his ankle.

It is an entertaining sport for television and the promoters have completed the look with an elegant and Bollywood-style presentation of the competition and players off the court.

Keen to follow the glamorous IPL, PKL 's organizers set about re-vamping the images of the players, who mostly hail from Indian villages.

We groomed them, got them new haircuts and trained them on how to be on TV, PKL commissioner Anupam Goswami told AFP.

We also make sure that the playing field seems a bit aspirational.

The success of the first few seasons led Chinese smartphone-maker to LIVE sign up as PKL 's title sponsor in a reported $ 42 million deal.

The tie-up made PKL the second-largest league in India in terms of sponsorship money after the IPL, which also has VIVO as their lead sponsor.

One of the PKL 's foreign stars, U Mumba's former Iran captain Fazel Atrachali, says the league has given players the chance to have a lucrative career.

When you have money in your sport, your mind is not busy with other things, Atrachali told AFP.

Goswami said that, putting aside the massive salaries of top players in sports like basketball or football, annual wages of $ 100,000 for a kabaddi player are very respectable.

The minimum wage is seven lakh ($ 9,860 per season), which is the salary of a mid-level occupation in our country, he added.

While the PKL has prospered, it has been a different story for India's men's and women's international teams who have suddenly hit hard times.

In the Asian Games last year, the men of India suffered the second and third international defeats in their history, the previous one went to South Korea in the 2016 World Cup, since the seven times champions lost gold for the first time.

Iran, which also claims to be the birthplace of kabaddi, went on to clinch their maiden gold. India's women also lost to Iran in the final.

It sparked soul-searching among India's kabaddi hierarchy. But PKL technical director E Prasad Rao said he was confident the problems will be resolved and that India would soon return to the top.