Meet the Hong Kong girls smashing cultural stereotypes through this growing Indian phenomenon (Hong Kong)
“Kabaddi, kabaddi, kabaddi,” chants university student Lily Hung Ka-lee as she cautiously approaches the opposing team’s half, showing that as the attacker – or “raider” – her breath is not being broken during her allotted 30 seconds.
This is just one of the several quirky rules-turned-traditions of the South Asian sport of kabaddi – conceived in India’s ancient Tamil region, now played by a group of 12 hardy girls in Kowloon.
“When I first started and we had to say ‘kabaddi’ when we raid or yell to distract others, it was weird but you learn to embrace it as a part of the sport – you’ll only really know when you play,” said Hung, a proud member of Kabaddi United Hong Kong, Hong Kong’s only kabaddi team.
Kabaddi is a contact sport played by two teams of seven. The object of the game is for the single offensive raider to run into the opponent’s half, tag out as many of the seven defenders, and return without being tackled to the ground.
Raiders collect one point per tag, defenders earn a point per stoppage and each point revives a previously taken-out player. The teams alternate turns until one team runs out of players.
Hung was introduced to the sport via university handball teammate and now Hong Kong women’s kabaddi coach Emily Ho Yan-yee, who wants to expel the myth that all “Kong girls” are bubble wrapped.
“People think Hong Kong girls are a bit spoilt but when we play, we play with intensity,” said Ho, who majors in sports coaching at university and discovered kabaddi during her exchange year in Taiwan. Coincidentally, the women’s team returned from their first overseas tournament in Taiwan this month; there is no men’s team yet.
“[They] may worry about getting hurt because it’s a contact sport – our team of 12 was originally worried nobody would want to join – but we found that many people are willing to try it out; they finish training bruised all over but still think it’s really fun.”
Kabaddi soon became an obsession for Ho. Casual training turned into university tournaments and eventually overseas courses for coaching badges and workshops.
After almost two years of sitting on the sport because of lack of opportunities, she finally met a Hongkonger with a similar passion – but for a whole new target demographic.
Anthropology PhD student Wyman Tang Wai-man had just finished writing his thesis on South Asian culture in Hong Kong, specifically drug usage within the Nepalese community, when he discovered kabaddi.
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