Kabaddi: India beat Iran in a controversial final - Hindustan Times

Kabaddi: India beat Iran in a controversial final

Oct 08, 2023 12:08 AM IST

The match was suspended for almost 60 minutes due to a refereeing error before India won 33-29.

A conventional kabaddi match lasts 45 minutes -- two halves of 20 minutes each interspersed by a five-minute break. On Saturday, the India-Iran men's kabaddi final lasted about 100 minutes, including a 60-minute break in a final of farcical proportions. Seven-time champions India had waited for five years to reclaim the men's kabaddi gold, and after being locked at 28-all with a minute to go, the desperation spilled onto the mat in Xiaoshan Guali Sports Centre on Saturday.

India players argue with a referee on a disputed decision in the men's kabaddi gold medal match between India and Iran during the Hangzhou 2022 Asian Games in Hangzhou, in China's eastern Zhejiang province(AFP)
India players argue with a referee on a disputed decision in the men's kabaddi gold medal match between India and Iran during the Hangzhou 2022 Asian Games in Hangzhou, in China's eastern Zhejiang province(AFP)

Eventually, India won the match (33-29) and the gold they coveted, but it was a controversial affair. With Iran having emerged as a genuine threat to India's supremacy, the match was always going to be a tense affair and it lived up to the billing. The teams went toe-to-toe in regulation time and beyond, the chaotic flashpoint arriving with just 65 seconds remaining in the final.

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Drama began shortly after India captain Pawan Sehrawat stepped up for a raid. He tried to tag an opposing defender but was unable to do so and hence stepped out into the lobby with the Iranians in pursuit. The lobby, in kabaddi parlance, is a one-metre wide area between the outer edge of the mat to the inner line and is considered active only when contact has been made between the raider and a defender. Sehrawat was followed by at least three Iranians who entered the danger zone looking to tackle him down.

One of the Iranians lost balance and stepped out of bounds at the back. That's where the confusion began. As per Rule No. 28 of the International Kabaddi Federation rulebook, "If a defender or defenders who has/have touched the ground outside the boundary, hold a raider, the raider will be declared not out. The defender or defenders who have gone out of bounds only will be declared out."

Simply put, unless a raider has touched a defender initiating a struggle, no defender can enter the lobby in pursuit. And if anyone does enter or touches the raider in the lobby, all defenders in the lobby with a touch on that raider will be declared out.

However, as per new Pro Kabaddi League (PKL) rules that were introduced this season, if a raider steps out into the lobby without a touch, the raid immediately ends and the raider is declared out. No defender who follows the raider in the lobby can be declared out. The PKL rule effectively is the exact opposite of what the international rule states.

In a bizarre turn of events, the referee followed the PKL rule and awarded a point each to both teams, something that India challenged. The Indian coaching staff and players sat on the mat disputing the decision and refused to play.

The Indians asked for a video referral following which three points were awarded to India and one point to Iran. Now, the Iranians launched a protest. Skipper Fazel Atrachali came off the bench to lead his players out of the playing arena. The referees and judges again went for more replays and restored their decision of awarding a point each to both teams.

Confusion continued as the Indians began another round of protests with coach Edicherry Bhaskaran asking his players to sit on the mat. The Indian team also threatened a walkout. With the situation getting completely out of control, the Asian Amateur Kabaddi Federation (AAKF) officials were summoned and they sought to award a point each to both teams. The Indians didn't take the offer and continued to protest.

Next, the referees and judges awarded three points to India much to the Iranians' dismay. They reluctantly resumed the match which had, by then, been reduced to an absolute mess. The post-match press conference was called off but Iran coach Gholamreza Mazandarani made his feelings known in the mixed zone.

“This is very bad for kabaddi. The officials made some terrible mistakes and decisions. All of (India’s) team, their coaches and managers were putting pressure on the referees to reverse the decision and they did exactly that," Mazandarani said.

Bhaskaran returned the favour. “They were trying to influence the decision. As per the rulebook, the decision to award us three points was correct. But they want to manipulate that. It’s bad for the image of kabaddi," he said.

Earlier, the women's team prevailed in a tough final against Chinese-Taipei 26-25 to claim its third gold in the Asian Games history. The Indians trailed their opponents by two points in the second half but came back strongly to secure the win. The win also marked the 100th medal for India at the Asian Games.

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    Shantanu Srivastava is an experienced sports journalist who has worked across print and digital media. He covers cricket and Olympic sports.

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