Coronavirus lockdown: Rural sports in quandary

Coronavirus lockdown: Rural sports in quandary

The traditional wrestling, a contact sports that's grappling with cash-crunch, stares at a bleak future post the Covid-19 break. Other contact sports like kho kho and kabaddi are faced with many hurdles.

The Dasara Games, the annual state-level meet during Mysuru’s biggest festival, attracts large crowd. The traditional wrestling (kusthi) is undoubtedly the marquee event of the competitions. Mysuru is still the home of the sport that's seen a drastic decline in popularity over the years.

These days, the 80-odd wrestling houses (‘Garadi Manes’) wear a despondent look in the city. “No wrestling has happened in the ‘Garadi Manes’ for a over a month now. Only some wrestlers come there in different timings for their fitness routines,” D Ravikumar, the long-standing organising secretary of the Dasara Games, tells DH.

The Covid-19 pandemic has shaken the sporting world. While rich elite sports have significant battles to fight in these tough times, the situation of low-profile sports is even more dismal. Uncertainty and confusion loom over indigenous sports which cannot avoid physical contact in how they function.

Their immense love for the sports is helping officials and senior players remain confident in the face of adversity but a smooth resumption of activities is easier said than done. “Most of these wrestlers aren’t educated. So the lack of awareness in them becomes a problem,” says Ravikumar.

Wrestling at the highest level holds an advan, however,tage of having government funding and better facilities compared to its traditional counterpart. “They wrestle on mats which can be cleaned with disinfectants later. The crowd can be screened and there is scope for maintaining social distance in stadiums. Kusthi, however, takes place on mud with competitors, in almost all cases, only covering their waists with loincloth,” Ravikumar reasons.

Every year, traditional wrestlers call for government support. Lack of funds has led to poor maintenance of the wrestling homes and many arenas have shut down.   

Modern wrestling has its own problems to handle, says coach R Shivanand. “It’s a contact sport and the current scenario has made training very tough. My wards currently practice with dummies,” says the coach of Sports Hostel, Davanagere. The use of wrestling dummies has its limitations, points out Ratankumar Mathapathi, president of Indian Style Wrestling association.

“Dummies are used to boost the wrestler’s endurance. They are used for wrestling throws and a sparring partner is in danger of getting injured in this practice. So dummies come handy. But a partner and practice bouts are must to hone your skills. For now, it’s unthinkable for a wrestler to get into the ring,” explains the senior international wrestler.

The huge appeal among the people of these desi games in small towns is another challenge in these times. Kabaddi, for instance, is the most-enjoyed sport by people in rural areas. “We have seen that large gatherings cause issues. It's almost impossible to enforce social-distancing norms there. During matches, it will be very difficult to manage the crowd,” says BC Ramesh, the former India captain.

Like any sport, kabaddi in India has come to a grinding halt with the Federation Cup and Sub-junior national meets postponed. The auction for the popular Pro Kabaddi League has been pushed. Once it’s safe to re-start, kabaddi is sure to witness many changes, feels Ramesh.

“Screening of players can be conducted before selection trials and competitions. But this process requires a holistic approach. Karnataka have a lot of kabaddi clubs and everything must begin from there. They must be meticulous in developing a healthy culture and be stringent in checking the players’ health. We will need extra funds to progress in the right way,” says the former assistant coach of Bengaluru Bulls.

Perhaps kho-kho is the contact sport most affected by cash crunch. Officials admit that the road ahead is filled with hurdles. “Our association has run without government grant for four years,” says Mallikarjun, secretary of Karnataka Kho Kho Association.

“Our players are from economically weaker section and to afford even many quality sanitisers will be difficult for them. We cannot think of resumption till I don’t know when. For now, all the summer camps and tournaments have been cancelled. We are expecting donations from former players and senior administrators,” he admits.

These local sports, which have survived many generations, are banking on support from government and civic bodies to avoid a bleak future.