Indian men have won seven of the eight gold medals at the Asian Games since 1990. Indian women have won two of the three golds since 2010.
A popular sport in India which has seen a resurgence in recent years, kabaddi combines physical strength, agility and strategy to provide an engaging spectacle for audiences.
Backed by a 4000-year-old history, kabaddi was showcased as an exhibition sport prior to the Berlin 1936 Olympics. The sport soon found popularity in Asia and was included as a demonstration sport at the Asian Games in 1951 and 1982.
Kabaddi, though, finally found regular international exposure when it was included in the Asian Games programme for the 1990 edition in Beijing, China.
Since then, it has been a part of every Asian Games programme. Kabaddi at the Asian Games was a men’s only competition before the women’s event was also introduced in 2010.
Not surprisingly, the Indian kabaddi team has been a dominant force at the Asian Games.
At the Asian Games 1990, six teams – India, Bangladesh, Pakistan, China, Japan and Nepal – competed in a round-robin format, with each team playing the other once. India remained undefeated through the tournament and won the gold medal.
The round-robin format was followed in every edition till 2002 and the Indian men never lost a match at the Asian Games, winning all the gold medals.
For the Asian Games 2006 in Doha, Qatar, a knockout round after the round-robin league was introduced. The top-two after the league stage would contest the gold medal match and the third and fourth-placed teams would vie for the bronze medal.
However, it made no difference as India won all their league matches and went on to beat Pakistan in the final to claim a fifth-straight gold medal.
From the Asian Games 2010 onwards, a group-stage followed by knockouts format was organised for both men’s and women’s kabaddi competitions.
The Indian men’s and women’s teams went unbeaten throughout the 2010 and 2014 editions and claimed gold. Bronze medals were awarded to both losing semi-finalists from the Asian Games 2010.
However, India’s golden stranglehold was broken by Iran in 2018.
In the men’s event, the Indian national kabaddi team lost its first-ever game, going down 23-24 to South Korea in the group stages. India finished second in Group A to progress to the semi-finals but soon suffered their second loss, going down to eventual champions Iran to end up with bronze.
It was a marginally better story for the Indian women. They won all their group matches to advance to the semis where they beat Chinese Taipei to set up a summit clash with Iran.
However, in a shock result, Iran beat India 27-24 to win gold and inflict the Indian women’s first-ever defeat at the Asian Games.
With kabaddi set to return at the Asian Games 2022 in Hangzhou, India will be looking to win back their lost crown.