Indian Kabaddi Fever Grips Harvard Business School

Baker Library lawn on a blustery October afternoon may be a far cry from the plains of the Punjab, but Sections I and E engaged in the most quintessential of Indian sports: Kabaddi. The rules of Kabaddi are simple. Players from each side take it in turn to charge into the opposition’s half with the aim of tagging as many players as possible before returning to their own half. The complicating factor, however, is that the attacker must hold his breath – something he proves by chanting ‘kabaddi, kabaddi, kabaddi’ – the entire time he lingers in the opposition zone. Meanwhile, the defenders attempt to wrestle him to the ground until he is out of breath. Like dodgeball, the aim is to get the other team’s players out, seven to a side. With a field only twelve by ten yards in size, it is unsurprising that the game is fast paced and involves a great deal of physical contact.

It is October 26, and a crowd of over 50 students and partners is gathered to cheer on the two RC sides as they slug it out. Passersby look on in bewilderment as grown men take it in turns to launch into each other. Raiders keep their centre of gravity low as they dance around the field, legs bent and arms outstretched, whilst the opposition hangs nervously back waiting for the ideal moment to pounce. The repeated chanting gives players an air of tribal warriors. Within seconds of entering the opposition half, the raider strikes. As he reaches out to slap an opponent, the crowd roars with excitement. The defenders frantically grab at the retreating raider, who scrambles back to his side all the time screaming the sport’s cognomen. With a final gasp, an outstretched hand barely crosses the threshold into the raider’s own zone. The referee signals the player is safe, and the crowd cheers as the exhausted player gets to his feet.

Will Dean, Captain of Section I, is responsible for bringing the sport to Harvard. Prior to business school he played for the British Embassy team in New Delhi, India. “Kabaddi is massive in India. All you need is a small patch of waste land and you can play; you don’t even need a ball,” Will explains. “I am amazed how popular the sport is becoming at HBS. We have 35 regular players in Section I alone. I told a friend of mine at the Times of India about us playing every Friday, and he found it so amusing he wants to write an article about us.” Section I suits up every Friday afternoon and already has several other sections lined up to challenge them.

On the field, the game rages on. Section I’s familiarity with sport as well as their superior physical size is beginning to show against a courageous but inexperienced Section E. Section E Captain Matt Wrigley rugby-tackles valiantly on defense, but on attack NE has little answer to the combined might of I’s Bram Belzberg and Justin Pinchback, whose ferocious joint-tackles stop even the biggest of players dead in their tracks. At the start of the second half, the smallest player on the field, Camilo Marcantonio (NE), briefly threatens to upset the balance as he utilizes his agility and stamina to torment the bigger men, but ultimately Section I proves just too strong on attack as Vivek Raj, Jeremy King and Haitham Khouri all claim triple scalps. At the end of the 40 minute contest, the score speaks for itself: Section I retires to The Grille victors by 40 to 24 points.

Section I meets for Kabaddi every Friday at 4pm outside of Baker Library and is planning to form an official HBS Kabaddi Club; official Kabaddi rugby shirts are already on order. In addition, NI Captain Will Dean is planning an inter-section league, with a tournament slated for November, and a tour to Philadelphia to challenge Wharton.

November 5, 2007
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