Breaking Down the Contact Sport of Kabaddi: Rules & Gameplay

Photo credit: AP Photo/Tsering Topgyal

From the annals of ancient Indian history comes a sport that you’ve probably never heard of: kabaddi. Rooted in Asia, this physical team-game is sweeping its way west with non-Asian teams boasting the majority of competitors at the most recent Kabaddi World Cup.

A common beach past-time between friends, competitive kabaddi is a world apart: it’s very tactical and requires extremely fast reactions, quick thinking and incredible lung power at the highest level. Ever heard “lung power” used as a pivotal attribute in a sport before, not just “cardio”? Me neither.

Game Overview
Unlike most team sports outside of athletics relays, Kabaddi doesn’t feature a ball, disc or any other kind of equipment with which you need to outmanoeuvre your opponent. Kabaddi is played between two teams of seven on a 10x13m court and requires remarkable team effort on defense, and superb solo heroics on offence.

See the picture of a Pro Kabaddi field diagram below.

kabaddi court

Most – if not all – sports are conceived and developed on a local level: cricket in south-east England, basketball in Springfield and Kabaddi in…somewhere in India. While cricket and basketball are now globally established sports, Kabaddi is going through that uncomfortable mid-teens stage where it’s expanding across the world (woohoo!) but the rules vary from country to country or even regionally. Despite lacking a universal rulebook for the game, several key points remain consistent.

The game begins with both teams on-pitch in their respective halves and you score by successfully completing a “raid” in opposition half. Remember when I mentioned “superb solo heroics” earlier? This is it. A raid involves crossing in to the opposition half and tagging (making any physical contact) with at least one opposing player. As soon as any contact is made, the entire defending team can swarm around the raider and must stop them crossing back across the halfway line by grabbing, tripping or grappling them to the floor. As a raider, you have to try and initiate a contact with enough space to manoeuvre your way back.

Sound alright, being outnumbered 7:1? Let’s add in that the entire raid must be completed with a single lungful of air which is monitored by the raider constantly repeating the word “kabaddi” aloud until the end of the raid. If they run out of air before making contact and successfully crossing back to their half, they lose a point and that player is out. If you defend particularly well and eliminate all opposing players, you are awarded two bonus points. This is called a “Lona”. If a regular raid is completed successfully, then that team is awarded a point for every opposing player touched.

The winner is determined as whoever has the most points by the end of a timed match.

It’s quite a simple sport but the technique and explosiveness required for success are considerable. There are men’s and women’s divisions with many varying rules depending on the specific event (like Punjab Kabaddi which is played on a circular pitch) but all are physical and very exciting to watch: you’d be surprised how quickly you start cheering and applauding a successful 3-point raid!


Written by
Former athlete, family man, self-proclaimed blogger, award winning event owner, and champion of all things sports.

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