Breath control is the essential skill for success in kabaddi, a game with ancient roots in which teams take turns sending a raider across midcourt who, on a single breath, tries to tag a member of the opposing team and return safely to his team’s half of the court before taking another breath. To prove to officials that he or she is not inhaling, the raider must chant “kabaddi, kabaddi” throughout the attack. The best players can do it for several minutes.
Kabaddi’s rules would seem irredeemably arcane until one learns that 435 million Indian television viewers watched the Star Sports Pro Kabaddi League during its inaugural five-week run this year. Or that the league’s final attracted, for however brief a duration, 86 million Indian viewers, surpassing the tallies for the 2014 World Cup and the Wimbledon finals.