Asian kabaddi champions unsure of road ahead: Iran captain
Despite Iran winning the kabaddi gold at the Asian Games earlier this year, team captain Fazel Atrachali is not sure about replicating the success four years down the line as he feels the road ahead is rough. He also thinks India's Pro Kabaddi league is good for the sport.
"We lack a system," Atrachali told IANS on the sidelines of Pro Kabaddi Season 6 where he is leading former champions U Mumba.
"We don't know what will happen next. If the coach is staying or the players are staying. The president of the federation is staying or not, or what are the rules; we don't know. We have to overcome these roadblocks if we are to replicate our success," the 26-year old defender said.
Fazel, who is representing U Mumba for the second time as he played his first two seasons for the Mumbai-based franchise before plying his trade with Patna Pirates and Gujarat Fortunegiants, the aim the next time around in 2022 is to first reach the semifinals.
Iran rattled India's dominance in kabaddi by grabbing the gold at the 2018 Asian Games in Indonesia.
"Kabaddi is not so popular in Iran. After the Asian Games, it is picking up. But kabaddi came to Iran 22 years back. People don't know rules of kabaddi," rued Atrachali, who used to wrestle and indulge in judo as a youngster before switching to the traditional Indian sport.
The rules of kabaddi were introduced in Iran only after the federation was formed in 1996. The federation then went around scouting for wrestlers and converting them into kabaddi players.
Like India, Iran also has a kabaddi league, with as many as 16 teams. However, the Iranian league isn't as professional as Pro Kabaddi and the talent pool is not great, according to Atrachali.
"Things have changed since the gold, but it's still not there," said Atrachali who was snapped up for a record bid of Rs 1 crore by U Mumba, making him the first Pro Kabaddi League player to be auctioned for that amount.
"U Mumba was my first team, so I always have a special feeling for them. I have a lot of good memories here.
"When my friend told me my contract is of one crore rupees, I thought he is joking. Everybody likes money and I am no different. It can change my life," Atrachali quipped.
Heaping praise on Pro Kabaddi, Atrachali said his national teammates want to be part of the league for its professionalism.
"Pro Kabaddi is good for the sport. Asian Games and World Cup are like for two weeks and they finish. But Pro Kabaddi is for three months.
"Every night people will watch kabaddi. It helps kabaddi because people will follow the sport more. The league is very professional," he said.
About the Asian Games semi-final where his team ended India's monopoly since 1990, Atrachali revealed the Ajay Thakur-led side lacked team spirit and was less fitter than them. He added that Indian players were individually a notch higher.
"India is much better than Iran. All Indian players in the Asian Games were better than us. But we played like a team," he said.
"You must think about each other. The Indian team didn't play like a team. They are better than us in kabaddi but we are better than them in fitness. Korea too are better than India in fitness.
"We had players like Mairaj Sheykh (former captain) but we did not select him. You know why? Because he played for himself. He is a good player. But we wanted a team man and not a star player," he added.-IANS