Can you name a sport that does not require any form of equipment, yet requires a tremendous amount of teamwork? Kabaddi fulfills both criteria and, increasingly, more countries are taking an interest in this ancient South Asian sport which is aiming for Olympic status.

At the recent Bangkok Asian Games, two countries that are kabbadi newcomers, Japan and Thailand, participated in the event. Japan finished fifth behind Sri Lanka. But this came only after 10 years of hard work, said the manager for the Japanese national kabaddi team, Toshihiko Murakawa. "There are 30 teams at national level and they are all university students."

"We started only four months ago and the Asian Games is the first international tournament for us," said Tragoon Masvanich, team manager of Thailand Amateur Kabaddi Association, For now, kabaddi interest in Thailand is limited only to the national team since there are no other teams or clubs. Although the host country (of the 13th Asian Games) failed to clinch the gold medal, it was not short of fan support, which often outnumbered the number of Indian, Japanese or Pakistani supporters.

Kabaddi was first introduced internationally in 1990 in the 11th Asian Games in Beijing and was part of the 12th Asian Games in Hiroshima too. At both outings, India emerged champions with Pakistan and Bangladesh following closely.

The game is played on a field roughly the size of a badminton court. Each team comprises seven players with three players in reserve. The match is divided into two halves of 20 minutes each with a short break in between for the teams to change sides.

The match begins when one side sends a player (a 'raider') to the opposing team's territory. The 'raider' has to chant the word "kabaddi" over and over again in one breath while trying to tag any of the players from the opposing team. The opposing team has to stop him from returning to his own court by surrounding him and/or making him run out of breath. When the 'raider' runs out of breath in the opponent team's area, he is declared out. If he manages to tag an opponent while keeping up with the chant, the tagged player is out. Any player who is forced out of the court by his opponents is either considered out or his team loses a" point.

The question is: should kabaddi be included in the Olympics? G.A. Siddique, of the Indian kabaddi team, does not think it is possible, "It is highly unlikely because a lot of Western countries do not have a liking for this game for whatever reason it is. Maybe it's because it's played on the ground, which is not hygienic. You can get bruises and cuts. But perhaps they can devise an artificial surface for this like astro turf."

A different view was expressed by Achintya Kumar Saha, secretary-general of the Asian Amateur Kabaddi Federation: "About 270 million people in India play this game. It is also played extensively in Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Nepal, Bhutan, Iran, China, and Japan. This is a large number of the world's population; therefore it should be included in the Olympics. But there is some form of discrimination. Sports like yachting, sailing, tennis and squash are played only by a few but are included in the Olympics."

The president of the Olympic Council of Asia (OCA), Sheikh Ahmad al-Fahad al-Sabah, thought it would depend on those in charge of the sport. "I think kabaddi is a very interesting sport with high techniques. But we need to be more international. We are now pushing for the Continent Games, like the African or Commonwealth Games. We have to take it slowly."

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