Kabaddi battling steroid use as sport becomes more professional

DAN FUMANO
VANCOUVER DESI

Retired kabaddi player Lakha, right with the promising Dal, center and organizer Nitu, left at Lakha’s Surrey home Wednesday August 28, 2013. Ric Ernst / PNG

He was one of the very best in the world. But even the great Lakha — “the Wayne Gretzky of kabaddi” — had to walk away from the game he loves when he saw the steroids and other drugs around him spiralling out of control.

“It was hard. I found it was just time to give up,”Lakha told Vancouver Desi.

Kabaddi, the fast, thrilling and physically punishing contact sport from India, is getting bigger and more professional, but as the retired star player tells Vancouver Desi, the increased money and fame have brought the same scandal that’s plagued so many other sports: steroids.

Officially, his name is Jatinder Singh, but in the Lower Mainland’s Indian community where he’s been a star for 20 years, he is known to legions of fans simply by the one-word nickname he received as a child: Lakha.

Nitu Kang, president of the National Kabaddi Federation called Lakha “the Wayne Gretzky of kabaddi.”

Jett Bassi, a journalist who has covered the sport for several years, said Lakha’s combination of speed, finesse, and power made him not only one of the best in Canada for years — but among the best in the world.

“He was one of the best players in modern times for sure,” Bassi said. “It was a big thing, having a Canadian guy go around the world and promote Canada the way he did.”

Lakha said the sport has changed dramatically since he started back in 1994. For one thing, the money is bigger now than ever before.

Back in the 1990s, when Lakha trained at a Surrey gym with a few pro football players, he said, some CFL athletes would complain that he made more money in his sport than they did. In the past decade, the amount players earn through sponsorships and prizes has roughly doubled, Lakha said. Some players can pull in $50,000 or $60,000 playing a three-month summer season in Canada, travelling between B.C. and Ontario.

Elite players in India, meanwhile, command six-figure salaries. The top prize at the annual Kabaddi World Cup, sponsored by the government of Punjab, is worth more than $300,000 Cdn.

At the top levels of international kabaddi in recent years, as prize money has grown bigger and bigger, the game has become rife with doping scandals. At the 2011 Kabaddi World Cup in India, 53 players from 11 countries tested positive for banned substances, including eight Canadians. Canada had to forfeit more prize money than any other nation, losing more than half of their $180,000 winnings. At the time, it wasn’t clear whether the Canadian athletes had tested positive for steroids, or other banned substances.

All around the kabaddi world, including B.C., Lakha said, with increased money in recent years, the sport has been plagued by doping issues just like other high-level sports — especially when there’s more money on the line.

“There’s a lot of steroids in kabaddi,” Lakha said. “Back in the day, it was nothing. But now, it’s a huge problem.” He favours a hard line approach against doping:

“They’ve got to ban people. They should tell them now: next year, if somebody gets busted, you’re going to be out for a couple of years.”

Canada’s most famous ex-kabaddi player is Lakha’s former training partner, Daniel Igali, the Olympic wrestler who won gold for Canada in the Sydney Games in 2000.
Looking back on his playing days, Igali agreed with his former teammate Lakha about the rise of doping issues.

“When I was playing, I spearheaded the anti-doping drive, because I was having very unfortunate experiences in the dressing room, where I saw people drugging up before going to play,” Igali said.

Igali picked up kabaddi in Surrey in 1995, shortly after he arrived from Nigeria. Reached in Nigeria earlier this summer, Igali told the story of how he picked up the game and went on to become one of the first non-Punjabi kabaddi players in B.C., and one of the top players in the competition.

He went on to star in tournaments across Canada, India, the U.S., Australia, and England.

“I had a different style,” Igali said. “Because of my style, because I was very fast, they called me ‘Toofan Singh’ — it means ‘Hurricane’ in Punjabi.”

Dal Aujla, 20, is one of the youngest members of the Canadian men’s national kabaddi team. A 6-foot-3, 215-pound stopper, Aujla said he’s one of the smallest players on his club team, Surrey’s Young Kabaddi Club.

Aujla acknowledges the sport’s struggles with doping, and said he always admired a role model like Lakha, who was known for being a bruising, fiercely competitive athlete, but also a clean player, always respectful and drug-free.

“Even now, I can guarantee, he could still compete with everybody else and he hasn’t played for three years,” Aujla said.

“And now there’s a lot of drugs involved and stuff. And he’s one of those guys that never took anything before the match.”

dfumano@theprovince.com
twitter.com/fumano

Tags: , , , , , , ,





Featured

Malaysian MP Karpal Singh (C), pictured in this 2010 photo, has died in a car crash.  SAEED KHAN/AFP/Getty Images

Malaysian MP Karpal Singh dies in car crash

VANCOUVER DESI Malaysian MP Karpal Singh died in a car crash Thursday morning while travelling through the country’s western state of Perak, according to media…
Continue Reading »

pregnant wife

Daughter of murdered Surrey teacher gets over $500,000 compensation from father

KEITH FRASER VANCOUVER DESI The young daughter of a Surrey school teacher murdered by her husband has been awarded more than $500,000 in family compensation…
Continue Reading »

Vaisakhi Parade Surrey

Vaisakhi Parade: Values of Sikhism to wash over the streets of Surrey

VANCOUVER DESI The streets of Surrey will be filled with the colours, sounds and sights of Sikhism this Saturday as some 200,000 people are expected…
Continue Reading »

LOCAL NEWS

pregnant wife

Daughter of murdered Surrey teacher gets over $500,000 compensation from father

KEITH FRASER VANCOUVER DESI The young daughter of a Surrey school teacher murdered by her husband has been awarded more than $500,000 in family compensation…
Continue Reading »

Desi Hockey Dad threat

‘It got quite graphic’: Hockey dad charged with threatening 10-year-old player on his son’s team

Burnaby Winter Club team had just lost a playoff game IAN AUSTIN THE PROVINCE A Burnaby Winter Club hockey dad appeared in North Vancouver court…
Continue Reading »

Vaisakhi Parade Surrey

Vaisakhi Parade: Values of Sikhism to wash over the streets of Surrey

VANCOUVER DESI The streets of Surrey will be filled with the colours, sounds and sights of Sikhism this Saturday as some 200,000 people are expected…
Continue Reading »

Don't Miss...

Desi Hockey Dad threat

‘It got quite graphic’: Hockey dad charged with threatening 10-year-old player on his son’s team

Burnaby Winter Club team had just lost a playoff game IAN AUSTIN THE PROVINCE A Burnaby Winter Club hockey dad appeared in North Vancouver court…
Continue Reading »

Surrey Vaisakhi Parade

The sheer awe of Amritsar

VANCOUVER DESI Amritsar, literally a Pool of Nectar, derives its name from Amrit Sarovar, the holy tank that surrounds the splendid Golden Temple. Guru Ramdas,…
Continue Reading »

Vaisakhi Parade Surrey

Vaisakhi recipes and the concept of free kitchens

VANCOUVER DESI Food, especially feeding others for free, is a central philosophy of Sikhism. Sikhs do not have many strict rules regarding food but many…
Continue Reading »

Muslim Surveillance Program

New York police ends Muslim surveillance program that sparked outrage

TOM HAYS And JAKE PEARSON THE ASSOCIATED PRESS NEW YORK — The New York Police Department said Tuesday it has disbanded a special unit whose efforts to…
Continue Reading »

Selfies - inked finger-Twitter

Indian city bans selfies inside polling booths (w/gallery)

VANCOUVER DESI The next selfie you snap could land you in jail – for Indian voters at least. According to Indian news publication the Bangalore…
Continue Reading »


Bollywood Latest

Porn Queen-desi

2 States author listens to Sunny Leone’s Babydoll number to unwind

VANCOUVER DESI The author of  2 States – which has now been adapted into the Alia Bhatt and Arjun Kapoor film – has an interesting…
Continue Reading »

Bollywood actress

Gallery: Bollywood celebrity shots this week

VANCOUVER DESI More and more Bollywood stars are sharing all the glitz and glamour of their lives with fans – a personal touch – the…
Continue Reading »

Bollywood

Anurag Kashyap’s ‘Bombay Velvet’ gets new release date

IANS Mumbai – Filmmaker Anurag Kashyap’s much awaited film “Bombay Velvet”, which was reportedly planned to be released on Christmas along with Aamir Khan’s “P.K.”,…
Continue Reading »