Sharmi Ulahannan of India (center) is tackled by Bangladesh players during their women's kabaddi group B opening round match at the Asian Games on Monday. India won 34-20. Liu Jin / Agence France-Presse
Traditional power on collision course with iran after both win openers
Guangzhou - India's men have long dominated kabaddi at the Asian Games, but its female players now have a chance to shine as the women's version of the sport debuted in Guangzhou on Monday.
"We will definitely win the gold medal at the Asian Games. We have to, because Indians invented the sport," said 19-year-old Deepika Henry Joseph after the team defeated Bangladesh 34-20.
She said the girls know that a loss in their first Asian Games will not go down well back home given the unblemished record their male counterparts enjoy.
India has won gold in the last five editions of the games dating back to Beijing 1990.
Like Joseph, most of the players on the team cut their hair short before the Asiad to get into a more competitive spirit.
"Of course we prefer having long hair, but this is what we had to do to," said Joseph, whose family was initially opposed to the non-traditional trim.
For a majority of the girls, a good performance at the games will lead to greater recognition in India.
Despite a hat-trick of Asian kabaddi championship titles, they are still struggling to get decent jobs.
"Job opportunities are hard to come by despite our repeat success at the international level. But a gold in China will draw everyone's attention to women's kabaddi," said coach Sunil Dabas. "This is the best opportunity for the girls to give their careers a boost."
India's toughest opponent is likely to be Iran, which thrashed Chinese Taipei 62-18.
"The Iranian women are very strong, even though they don't look like it," said Lin Tsan-hui, head coach of Chinese Taipei.
"When our players tried to tackle them, we were the ones that fell over. I just feel lucky that none of our players were hurt."
Coach Dabas said each of the teams has different strengths.
"This sport requires height, speed, stamina and power. Whereas the Iranians are tall, the Japanese are swift. Still, our girls can overpower them," she said.
As a retired physical education teacher, Lin plans to promote kabaddi at schools in Chinese Taipei because it requires scarcely any equipment and can be played anywhere.
Kabaddi is the only event out of the 42 sports at the Asian Games that China is not participating in, because the world's most populous country could not organize a team.
"It is just not popular in China," says Gong Yemin, an official from the state's sport for all administration center in Beijing.
"There are no teachers, no coaches, no culture, no tradition - this is the main problem."
The Nepalese women's team is also unable to participate at the Asiad due to a dispute between the National Sports Council and the Nepal Olympic Committee regarding players' participation. Their absence on Monday benefited Korea, as it enjoyed a walkover.
In a letter to the Asiad organizing committee, Nepali chef de mission Umesh Lal Shresth on Sunday informed the chief of the organizing committee that Nepal's kabaddi team would not be participating in Guangzhou.
(China Daily 11/23/2010)