Kabadi Gains Traction among Youths

"Courage is not the absence of fear." Truly the very first thing which popped into my head as I interviewed Syed Rayhan, one among a number of youths who took part in an exhibition kabadi match organised by VISLAS.

I spoke with Mr Mohamad Salman Naufal and Mr Sivanessan S/O Kitnasamy to find out more about VISLAS and how their kabadi initiative started.

VISLAS is an organisation formed for youths, by youths, with the aim of bringing out the talents of the youths, primarily in the arts platform. Hence, VISLAS was formed to involve youths in the arts, through short films, drama, writing and speaking, to name a few. 

So where did the kabadi team come in?

VISLAS evolved to include 2 wings. The Academy wing is where youths are taught in the various disciplines, while the Productions wing is where youths actually gain the opportunity to make their own creations, be it dramas, or short films, and so on, and VISLAS will help them to promote and market their productions through the Productions wing. 

Then, VISLAS made a short film called "Kabadi". It was created to show the integration of a foreign national Tamil worker here in Singapore; the struggles he faced and so on. 

After VISLAS started promoting their short film, curiosity about kabadi was aroused in many people, who began to wonder what kabadi was all about. That is when VISLAS wanted to bring kabadi as a sport to Singaporean youths. 

When asked about whether Singapore youths are supportive of Indian sports in general, Mr Salman said, "Indian sports as of now do not have much of a reach, especially within the Indian community itself." 

He went on to explain how Culture Through Kabadi, an annual kabadi tournament in Singapore, was organised by VISLAS, in an attempt to bring Indian culture to youths through kabadi. "We are also trying to involve other races, of course, we have to go beyond our community and reach out... make kabadi as a sport reach out to Indians, as well as other races."

Culture Through Kabadi, which will be happening for the 4th time, is an annually-held inter-school kabadi tournament for secondary schools. It will be held on 30th June 2018. There will be 2 categories: the Under-18 category, and the Under-15 category. It will be a whole-day event, where the preliminary rounds, quarter-finals, semi-finals, and the finals will all take place in the same day. 

This year's additional twist would be VISLAS's intention to introduce kabadi to girls as well. "For the last 3 years, we have only involved boys. It started first with all Indian boys, and then after that we tried to involve other races, and now we're trying to involve the ladies as well," said Mr Salman. 

"It will be more like an exhibition match; a friendly game. So the girls will just come in and try their hand at the game," added Mr Sivanessan.

About challenges faced by VISLAS in promoting kabadi, the main one brought up was lack of knowledge among Singaporeans on what kabadi is.

"Many of them have never heard of it. But once they see the sport, that is when they actually get excited. They need to see the sport being played in real life. We have tried to promote through YouTube videos, but that doesn't happen. They need to come down and see the people play, and that is when they get really excited," said Mr Salman.

Gathering support, and youths, for a programme is never easy. VISLAS can relate. 

"The very first year we did it was the hardest, because reaching out to schools and reaching out to participants in itself was a huge challenge. And then going out and trying to do something for the first time on your own and looking for support itself is a big deal. But once we did that and achieved a reasonable level of success in it, the following years we had a little but more support, and every year we have been gaining more and more support," said Mr Sivanessan.

Culture Through Kabadi, since its inception 4 years ago, has been successful in attracting youths to play kabadi. Every year's event is better than the last. And every year aims to attract an even larger audience. For 2018, it's female kabadi players. 

"We also want ladies to be a part of this kabadi team as well, because internationally, the ladies are playing this game. Kabadi is all over the world, and ladies have their own world cup as well," Mr Sivanessan added.

Are Singaporean youths excited about kabadi?

"One of the players who was part of the (Jurong West) team that joined us in 2016, and won 2nd place in Culture Through Kabadi, went back and started his own team. And even though he's not playing this year, he's very excited to form a 'C' Division team filled with his juniors, and they're all coming in to participate in this year's Culture Through Kabadi," Mr Sivanessan said delightedly, glad about the impact Culture Through Kabadi has had thus far on Singapore's youths.

Curious to find out more, I spoke to 3 of the youths who had come down for kabadi practice that day.

"My motivation to join was my interest in kabadi, because when I was in primary school, my Tamil department organised Tamil cultural games, and kabadi was a part of it. I tried it out, it was interesting, and I was also very fast and my agility was quite good so, I played well, and that motivated me even more," said Rayhan, who joined Culture Through Kabadi in 2016 through his secondary school. 

Speed and agility are definitely important for sports. But is that all that matters in kabadi?

"Kabadi is all about courage," said Rayhan, who mentioned that the very first time he tried to play kabadi, he was very scared to go in and play, due to his small size in comparison to his bigger, stronger competitors. However, Rayhan has since enjoyed his time spent on playing kabadi. 

To those sitting on the fence and feeling unsure about whether or not to join kabadi, Rayhan says "Sure, you can join. Because if you play kabadi, your body will also become strong, because it's an exercise when you contact people throughout the course of the game. You've got to use all your body muscles, and so you will really build up your muscles, and it will also increase your courage and self-confidence. It doesn't matter what size you are, or how fast you are, it's all about your courage. And if they take part, then they can also make friends from other schools, like what I did," concluded Rayhan, who had cited new friends as one of his favourite parts of playing kabadi.

The idea of women playing kabadi may still seem far-fetched to some of you. But for Anubhav Mishra, his motivation to play kabadi came from a woman who played kabadi.

"My mother was a kabadi player, so I got the motivation from her," said Anubhav, who has also watched kabadi being played professionally in India.

"My favourite player is Manjeet Chillar, so when I watch him play, it gives me the motivation to go play kabadi and take part in big kabadi events," Anubhav added.

One truth I gleaned from chatting with the youths was that each of them had something different they liked about kabadi, due to how unique and diverse it is in comparison to the usual sports we are used to.

"Kabadi includes everything. It includes rugby, because you need to stop a person. It includes soccer as well, because you need speed. And it's all about strength, and discipline. In other games, you could fight with other players. But in kabadi, you cannot fight because the referee will give a red card straight away and have you banned from the whole tournament," explained Anubhav, about why he likes kabadi.

I wondered if kabadi has "staying power". It was clearly evident with Anubhav, who has been playing kabadi for the last seven years, having played for his national team as well as represented his state while in India. Here in Singapore, he's been playing kabadi with the VISLAS Productions kabadi team.

"In Singapore, some people are scared to even get a scratch on their hand. Kabadi's not a scary game, you just need to come and play. You won't get hurt every time. If you play a rough game or play whilst angry, then you might be more injury-prone, but otherwise you can play kabadi and have good time," said Anubhav.

Culture Through Kabadi has definitely been effective in reaching out to players of other racial groups. Cheang Wen Ding is just one example.

"2 years ago, I had a friend who introduced me to this sport, and I was interested. I went for the tryout and found it quite interesting," said Wen Ding.

Wen Ding's favourite part of kabadi reminded me yet again of how unique kabadi can be.

"It's not only about the physical contact, about knock-down and stuff, it's more about the sportsmanship. Once the referee blows the whistle, everyone should stop playing," said Wen Ding. 

Rayhan also enjoys the sportsmanship displayed during kabadi. "You can make a lot of friends by playing. Whether it's your opponent or teammate, you'll all be friends after the game. When you're on the pitch, you'll consider them your opponents, but after the game when we shake hands and congratulate each other, after winning or losing, it doesn't matter, because it's all part of the game," explained Rayhan.

Finally, the golden question: Does kabadi have enough exposure in Singapore?

The answer to this was unanimous. Don't believe it? Keep reading :)

"The challenge with kabadi is that it is still rather new, so people don't have the knowledge about it. But for us the main challenge is to spread the knowledge. To give the kabadi the exposure it deserves," said Mr Salman.

"We are looking to breach new boundaries and bring kabadi to newer places. The eventual goal will obviously be to make it a sport where the community can play at various levels, and probably also become a national level sport for us," said Mr Sivanessan.

"I feel that Indians from India definitely know about kabadi, but Singaporeans, not really, and other racial groups wouldn't know about the sport. I myself was introduced by my friend, so if I hadn't been introduced by him I wouldn't have known either," said Wen Ding. 

"Boys from India know about kabadi, but we are still spreading kabadi here. Only some of the Singaporeans know about kabadi," said Anubhav.

"I think not. Kabadi is not really famous in Singapore. But I will definitely say that it's slowly becoming famous due to VISLAS Productions. They are good at organising kabadi trainings and competitions, and it allows schools to participate, and they win prizes too. This way, it slowly spreads to other schools, and even Chinese and Malays can participate. So it's slowly becoming big, and that's good," said Rayhan.

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