They are the quintessential small-town boys coming from humble households, whether India or elsewhere, but players participating in the ongoing Wave World Kabaddi League have gone on to become a globe-trotting bunch earning good money from their freelance assignments all over the world.
Flashing wide grins and bank balances which can rival big-time corporate earners, the kabaddi players are a happy lot and don't have any stories of struggle or hardship to talk about.
"I have played in Canada, Norway, Germany, Australia, Belgium, France and Italy. I get paid around Rs 6 lakh from each of these club assignments which means about three months in a country. I have a good life and I am happy," said Loveroop Singh, a raider with the United Singhs team co-owned by Bollywood star Sonakshi Sinha.
In the ongoing league, the players are being paid a salary of Rs 1.5 crore and Loveroop said the current assignment is the best he has taken up so far.
"The money is much more here. So many big stars are involved and it is turning out to be a good experience," said the raider, whose brother Navroop has played for the German national team.
Not just the Indians, even the Pakistanis competing in the event speak about the financial prosperity that the sport promises.
"It is a big sport in Pakistan. You cannot imagine the magnitude, people love the sport. We are paid very well and we make good money by competing in other countries also.
"I remember an instance when a 45000-capacity stadium was packed inside and a similar number waited outside in a match I was part of. That's the craze of Kabaddi in our country. You don't even need to publicise, people turn up just by word of mouth," said Lahore Lions raider Lala Ubaidullah.
Ubaidullah's brother Lala Saif, a stopper, is also playing in the same team and three of his brothers back home are also actively competing in the sport.
"In fact, I have an academy of mine in Faisalabad where we train boys in the age group of 12 and 22. Kabaddi is a financially rewarding sport, I am very happy to pursue it as a career," said Ubaidullah, the son of a former wrestler.
Baljit Singh Kooner, a British player of Indian origin, echoes the sentiment. The imposing stopper from the United Singhs team took to kabaddi by default.
"I play all over the world and it takes care of my livelihood. There is no problem. I go to Australia, Canada, USA, all over Europe. It's good money. And this league is going to take kabaddi to a new level.
"I have played in India also. In England, I play 12 tournaments in a year and the money is very good," said Kooner, the son of a wrestler, who took to the sport after filling in for an injured player during a local match.
Another such story is of Gurdeep Singh, a raider with United Singhs. The son of a track and field athlete, Gurdeep started playing after being inspired by a village player he idolised.
"I recently played in Dubai and earned a decent sum. Now I am here where again the money is good so I am happy with how my life is going. Kabaddi has given me a lot, it's a sport which takes care of you," he said with a smile.
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