Making efforts to have a NE team in Ultimate Kho Kho: Mittal
KKFI president Sudhanshu Mittal and other dignitaries unveiling the trophies ahead of the 4th Asian Kho Kho Championship in Tamulpur from March 20

Tamulpur: Until 2022, Kho Kho was predominantly restricted to the nondescript rural pockets of the country. Rooted in tradition, and still played mostly on mud, the sport got out of its beast mode when it was rebranded from the old, rustic game into a new-age spectacle with players sprinting, stretching and leaping on bright blue mats at the inaugural Ultimate Kho Kho (UKK), making it a spectator-friendly sport for the TV audience.

In its inaugural season, the UKK registered a viewership of 64 million, 41 million of which came from India, making it the third-most viewed non-cricket competition in India after the Pro Kabaddi League (PKL) and the Indian Super League (ISL). 

KKFI president addressing the media ahead of the Asian championship in Tamulpur.

Kho Kho Federation of India (KKFI) president and senior BJP leader Sudhanshu Mittal indicated that there are serious efforts to help the UKK spread its wings far and wide while indicating that a team from the North East could be a reality as early as the second edition of the tournament. 

“There are serious efforts to have a team from the North East in the Ultimate Kho Kho League. In the inaugural season, we had six teams, hopefully, we can add a couple of teams this season, and out of that one of those could most likely be from this region. The efforts are on to have the teams in this season itself,” Mittal told EastMojo during an interaction on the sidelines of the trophy unveiling ceremony of the upcoming 4th Asian Kho Kho Championship, starting March 20 here.

“As far as the North East is concerned, Arunachal Pradesh has already made kho kho compulsory as part of the school curriculum. We are hoping that the other seven-sister states will gradually take the same route. There is huge potential in the region, what we need is to give these kids the right exposure and sharpen their skills right from the grassroots level,” he added.

Explaining the reason behind hosting the Asian championship in the Bodoland Territorial Council-governed town, Mittal felt it would help boost sports tourism in the region, while at the same time keeping the traditional sport connected to the rural belts.

Mittal, along with KKFI general secretary MS Tyagi, BTR Chief Pramod Boro and Assam Kho Kho Association (AKKA) president Rajib Prakash Baruah visited the venue on Tuesday.

“The idea behind hosting the championship here (in Tamulpur) is to bridge the remotest parts of the country with the mainstream. Kho Kho is a traditional sport, and as such the effort is to stick to the roots and spread across the rural belts, which in turn also boosts sports tourism. The rural areas have so much potential but have been untapped so far,” he explained.

“Once we start hosting international tournaments, these nondescript areas will witness people thronging in from the rest of the world, thereby boosting infrastructure, economy, and tourism in these areas,” he added.

More than 10 countries – Bangladesh, Bhutan, Indonesia, Iran, Iraq, Malaysia, Nepal, Singapore, South Korea, Sri Lanka and the host India have confirmed their participation in the Asian championship that will be played at the Tamulpur Higher Secondary School. Two other countries, including Pakistan, are awaiting clearance from the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA), which Mittal said is entirely the government’s decision while reiterating the BJP’s stand on “sports and cross border terrorism can’t go hand in hand.”

KKFI president Sudhanshu Mittal along with general secretary KC Tyagi, BTC chief Pramod Boro & Assam kho kho association president Rajib Prakash Baruah taking stock of the preparations for the 4th Asian Kho Kho Championship starting March 20 in Tamulpur.

“According to international sports regulations, as a sports body, it’s our job to extend invitations to as many prospective participants, but there are some decisions which are beyond our control. Whether the Pakistani teams are given a visa, we will have to wait for the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) call. At the same time, we have to remember that sports and cross-border terrorism can’t go hand in hand. As the organisers we have done our part by inviting them, now the ball is in the government’s court,” he explained.

On being queried if the Pakistani teams are given clearance, will it be an issue to provide security?

“I have full faith in Assam Police, I don’t think providing security will be much of a concern. If our police can fight extremists, then providing them security won’t be much of a headache,” Mittal said.

After the Asian championship, Mittal, who also heads the World Kho Kho body, is looking forward to hosting the world championship in London in July this year. 

“At present, 36 teams are playing Kho Kho, and more importantly the sport is spread across all the continents. We can’t expect all 36 to feature at the world championships which will be held in England, so the number of participants will depend on the format. It could either be a 12-team or a 16-team event,” he informed.

“As world kho kho president, it’s a matter of pride and great satisfaction for me to take the sport to parts of Africa, South America, Europe, Australia and Asia. We are now sending some of our coaches abroad to help develop grassroots talent, and train the players to eventually include the sports in the Olympics. That will be my biggest achievement,” he said.

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