MEXICO WAS UP AGAINST SOUTH KOREA, and Triana, captain of the Mexico Women’s Kabaddi Team, was preparing to launch into the opposing side. She nodded at her teammates, took a deep breath, and darted across the court. “Playing Korea was really fun,” Triana later recalled. “It was so fun, I started laughing in the middle of the game!” As she crossed into the South Korean team’s side, she sensed in her opponents’ confused expressions that something was wrong. In a few seconds, a Korean player, trying to contain her own laughter, leaned forward and whispered, “Kabaddi, kabaddi, kabaddi,” kindly reminding Triana to do the same. Triana took the hint—she had forgotten one of the fundamental rules of the game—but started giggling, and soon she and the entire South Korean team were in a fit of laughter in the middle of the match. Despite the roaring crowd, the incident set a cheerful tone for the rest of the game. Mexico lost to South Korea in a landslide: 14:72.
For the Mexican team, the first Women’s Kabaddi World Cup was not just about competition: the team had travelled across half the world to Patna of all places to play a sport that doesn’t exist in Mexico. “We’re pretty conscious that we’re new,” said Aranzazu, a Mexican player.
The road to Patna began years ago, when most of the Mexican team, then children living in Mexico, were sent off by their parents to the Miri Piri Academy (MPA), a boarding school in Amritsar for Sikhs of foreign origin. The school was started by the late Harbhajan Singh aka Yogi Bhajan, the spiritual leader of an American offshoot of Sikhism. Study, prayer and Kundalini Yoga were central to their education at the MPA, but a handful of students also fell in love with kabaddi. “I think it’s the most fun sport I’ve ever played,” said Alejandra. When they returned to Mexico, they took with them a commitment not only to the lifestyle of Yogi Bhajan’s Sikhism, but also to the sport. But with kabaddi virtually unknown in Mexico, the women had little chance to practice.