Ancient sport of kabaddi under fire from Immigration Canada

http://www.thestar.com/news/canada/article/1161420–ancient-sport-of-kabaddi-under-fire-from-immigration-canada?bn=1
Inside thestar.com

Kabaddi is an ancient Punjabi game that incorporates elements of wrestling, tag and rugby. The sport has come under fire because some people brought to Canada from India to play the game have not returned.

Kabaddi is an ancient Punjabi game that incorporates elements of wrestling, tag and rugby. The sport has come under fire because some people brought to Canada from India to play the game have not returned.
Rick Madonik/Star file photo
Raveena Aulakh Staff Reporter

Every summer, kabaddi makes an impact on the playing fields in Greater Toronto as thousands of South Asians descend to watch players compete in this ancient Indian sport.

With another season set to begin, kabaddi is making a splash for a very different reason — allegations of human smuggling involving players.

Immigration Canada officials say that of the 670 visas issued in 2011 to players from India, 91 have not returned home, while 27 have filed refugee claims.

Immigration has already pulled the plug on a special visa process, initiated last year, that enabled players to fast-track through the system.

The scandal has sent the South Asian community into a tizzy, the ethnic radio waves dizzy.

Who are these 91 people and where are they?

No one knows.

“Everyone is talking about what happened … it is shocking,” said Kulran Lalli, a kabaddi player in Brampton. “We are very worried what it means for the sport and this season.”

Kabaddi, a sport played in many parts of India including rural Punjab, combines speed and power in a game that has elements of both rugby and wrestling. In recent years, it has transformed from a rural game to a sport played for big cash prizes in countries such as the United States, New Zealand, Australia, Britain and Canada.

In Canada, there are at least seven kabaddi federations, each with six to 10 sports clubs. These federations organize tournaments where locals and players from India compete.

The season runs from May to August. Spectators pay to watch and there is sponsorship money, too. Politicians are known to lavish attention on the sport. No one will say how much money each player makes while in Canada, but it is believed to be upward of $20,000.

Players blame the scandal on both the federations and on immigration officials. “There aren’t even 200 good players in Punjab,” said Major Singh Natt, a Brampton businessman who runs the United Sports and Cultural Club.

“How did immigration end up giving visas to 670 people? Who were these people?” he asked. “Did immigration check whether these were players?”

If Punjabi radio stations are to be believed, many were family and friends of federation officials. In one case, a servant was also brought along.

There are three kabaddi federations each in Ontario and B.C., and one in Alberta.

Before 2011, kabaddi players were not issued special visas. Those involved in the sport applied for their own temporary resident visas, like any other visitor to Canada. Due to increasing requests from federations, immigration officials created a program where these organizations could recommend players.

About 152 kabaddi visas were issued in 2009 and 298 more in 2010. Under the special visa arrangement, the total jumped to 670 in 2011.

Categories: Canada

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