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Last Updated: Sunday, 25 November 2007, 01:22 GMT
Army targets recruits with contact sport
A tackle being made in a kabaddi match
Kabaddi players try to avoid being wrestled to the ground
The British army has come up with an innovative way of attracting ethnic minority recruits - it has taken up the Indian contact sport, kabaddi.

The BBC's Jatinder Sidhu went to see the Army's first kabaddi touring team in action in Punjab, India.

On one side of a chalked-out rectangular court, four men from the Punjab Police squad, their arms linked, crowd around 2nd Lt Nick Burdick, the sole "raider" from the British army team.

The British soldier can be heard to mutter the words "kabaddi, kabaddi, kabaddi..." over and over.

His task, after crossing the middle line, is to touch any of the defending team and then get back over to his own side without being wrestled to the ground.

In a sudden move the 6ft 2in gunner lunges forward, but before he can run back three of his four opponents rush at him in an embrace, which traps him and lifts him clear off the floor.
It's a game that can be played with no equipment, with just a small piece of ground, anywhere in the world
Sgt Scott Burrell

To newcomers, this game, with its 30-second rounds, the stakeout, frenetic running, rugby tackles and rolling around in the sand, looks like a cross between British bulldog and sumo wrestling.

This is what makes kabaddi, a sport played across India since the days of ancient epic the Mahabharata, an exciting game to watch.

Just four months after embracing the sport, the British army kabaddi team have come to the home of the sport to improve their technique and challenge the experts.

After fixtures in Delhi and Mumbai, where they narrowly lost all three matches, they are in Punjab with something to prove.

About 12,000 spectators have come to a two-day rural sports tournament in Parasrampur, 15km (9.3 miles) from the Punjabi city Jalandhar, in Northern India.

Several thousand people pack the large concrete stand on one side of the ground.

Bhangra musicians and folk dancers perform on a stage in between matches, while dignitaries are served snacks in an open-sided marquee opposite the stage.

The majority of locals make do with standing or sitting cross-legged along the open side of the games ground.

Pre-match nerves

When the British army team arrive for their match, there is raucous applause from the crowd.

The team do a lap of honour but the smiles belie the visitors' concern about their game against the Punjab Police.
A kabaddi match
The games can be played on any available open ground

Cpt Al Reid, the team manager from the Royal Artillery, is clearly feeling the pressure.

"This is the largest crowd we've ever played in front of, so there are some pre-stage nerves, but I think we're about as well prepared as we can be."

With a busy week-long schedule taking in four competitive matches and numerous meetings, by the end of the tour the team is evidently feeling the strain.

"Being in an exotic country with primarily exotic cuisine, a couple of guys are feeling unwell this morning, myself included," explains Cpt Reid.

"We've had to take stock a little bit, but we're out here to please and I'm sure we'll deliver."

Watching their opponents bask in the crowd's enthusiasm, the Punjab Police team are looking relaxed. Their coach Parmjit Singh tells the BBC his team is confident.

"The British team is new, our team is very good and we'll beat them. But our lads are excited. We're very happy to be playing them."

Versatile game

There is more to the Army's interest in kabaddi than just sport.

The recruitment section is funding the game and the tour. They see it as a way of appealing to young British Asians and encouraging them to sign up as soldiers.

Currently, ethnic minority representation within the British armed forces is 5.8%, and the MoD's goal is for that to be 8% by 2013.

And for the team the game is attractive not only because it is fun - described as "rugby without the ball" by the players - but also because it helps them keep fit.

Sgt Scott Burrell, from the Army Physical Training Corps, points out the versatility of the game in the military context.
We've enjoyed the game, we've learned a lot, we put in a credible performance and we're happy with that
2nd Lt Nick Burdick

"It's a game that can be played with no equipment, with just a small piece of ground, anywhere in the world. So guys on operations anywhere, like in Afghanistan or Iraq, can take part.

"Hopefully we can do it out there and give them something to do."

A whistle and the hyperactive commentator's announcement mark the start of the match. The British team impress many of the spectators with their performance, but their opponents' fancy footwork is too much for them.

At half time the Brits huddle round their captain John Craig. His frustration with the team is all too evident. "We've started off sluggish again," he says.

Their determination is not enough to overcome the home team's tactical superiority, and at the final whistle the visitors lose 25-28.

But 2nd Lt Burdick is not disheartened.

"We've enjoyed the game, we've learned a lot, we put in a credible performance and we're happy with that.

"We're playing against people who've got a vast number of years of experience. As a team they train a lot more often than we're able to with our commitments elsewhere."

As the tour ends, the team are keen to carry forward their experiences in India.

"The hospitality's been amazing. It'd be thrilling for the Indian Army to come to the UK to play us."

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