What is kabaddi

Hardawinder Singh Dulla Surkhpuria takes a deep breath. The referee whistles and drops his arm. Surkhpuria sprints into the opposing half, her bare upper body tensed.

The Indian lets his breath slide through his lips with constant, almost incomprehensible sounds - and that as slowly as possible, because there has to be enough air for the entire attack. His singing is a string of the word "Kabaddi" - the name of this game.

Just hold your breath - what sounds like well-intentioned advice to some exalted football professionals belongs in kabaddi (pron Kabbadi) to the basic rules. As bizarre as the breath-hold game may sound for Europeans, who are used to football players panting on the lawn, Kabaddi is a popular sport in South and Southeast Asia, especially in India and especially in the northern Indian region of Punjab.

Surkhpuria, vice-captain of the Indian national team, stops in front of the opponents from Pakistan, paddling back and forth in a boxer-style wait and see. The four defenders - stopper - in the green trousers hold hands, form a chain.

The Asian team sport combines elements of wrestling and catching games. The players - whose constitution is similar to that of rugby players - face each other on a round or rectangular field. They alternately send theirs raider - the robber - in the opposing half.

To get one of the opposing players (the antis) to "rob", it is enough if the raider touched it - and escaped the attacked team's defense attempts. As soon as Surkhpuria jumps forward and he tries to touch an opponent, the next moves follow at lightning speed: The defenders try to prevent him from returning to his own half - until he is out of breath. If they succeed, the point goes to their team.

Kabaddi has been played in southern Asia for around 4,000 years, and even Buddha himself is said to have sought diversion in team wrestling, according to tradition. Binding rules were first created in 1921 on the occasion of a major tournament in what is now the state of Maharashtra.

Sport is an indispensable part of Indian culture. "Kabaddi is firmly anchored in society there," says Bijon Chatterji. The son of Indian immigrants runs the largest India portal on the German-speaking Internet. As a child, he traveled frequently to India. "Kabaddi was always played there," he recalls. What is quickly ridiculed as a breath-hold game in this country, so Chatterji, is a serious sport on the Indian subcontinent.

This is also evidenced by the growing recognition that team wrestling is enjoying: sport has been an integral part of the Asian Games since 1990, and the International Association IKF was formed in 2004. For the third time, international teams fought for the world championship title in April. The Kabaddi players, however, dream of more: "Today in Asia, tomorrow in Olympics" is the motto on the website of the Asian association. Kabaddi was already a guest at the Summer Olympics once: at the 1936 Games in Berlin, as a show insert. Kabaddi activists are now fighting to have their sport return - as an Olympic discipline.