Praising the upcoming generation of kabaddi players, veteran star and national captain Ajay Thakur has asserted that the 'desi' sport will be the most popular game in the country within a decade.
On Friday, Thakur, who hails from Himachal Pradesh, was named for the Padma Shri, India's fourth highest civilian award, on the occasion of Republic Day.
The ace raider, the only kabaddi player to receive the prestigious award, is known to have changed the game's landscape in the country.
Talking to IANS, an elated Thakur said: "No other player from this sport has received such a prominent award. I think the government has also started recognising it's popularity."
"I am confident this award will further motivate other kabaddi players and so, I am assured that this game has a bright future in India. Just wait for 8-10 years, you will see kabaddi as the most popular game in our country," Thakur added.
Thakur has over 14 years of professional experience as a top level player and the veteran also opened up in his long journey over the years.
"Winning the 2016 Kabaddi World Cup for my country was the best moment for me. Moreover, I was the top scorer (68 raid points) in that tournament so the joy was doubled," the 32-year-old said.
"However, losing at the Asian Games last year was the low point of my career, as it happened under my captaincy and we had to settle for bronze. With kabaddi being a complete Indian game and if such mishappenings take place, it hurts," Thakur admitted.
Meanwhile, Thakur, a Deputy Superintendent of Police (DSP) in Himachal Pradesh, credited the Pro Kabaddi League (PKL) for the rise and expansion of the game globally.
"If the PKL wasn't there, kabaddi wouldn't have reached such heights. Just see how this rural Indian game has expanded in such a short span of time. This league has helped the game grow not only in India but also in other countries," opined the Indian skipper.
"A game's popularity depends on how many countries play it. Earlier, just India use to play it and win every time and that wasn't a big thing. Because of PKL, kabaddi has crossed boundaries and the competition level has increased," asserted Thakur.
The former Air India player, who won the gold medal in 2007 Asian Indoor Games and was a part of the winning Indian at 2014 Asian Games, also felt that PKL has given recognition to the kabaddi players which was missing earlier.
On the Padma Shri, Thakur said: "I was just speechless when I came to know about it, I didn't knew how to react."
"It's every Indians dream to receive such an award. May be some good deeds in the past by me paid-off," he added thanking his mentor and long-time coach Nandlal Thakur and parents for his success.
The veteran also shared some tips for those who are planning to take up the game professionally.
"Being a contact sport, the chances of injury are very much higher in this game when compared to other disciplines. So, fitness is very important here and for that one's diet should be very balanced," Thakur said.
"If you have a proper balanced diet, your muscles will automatically have the strength which will enable them to protect you from injuries," he added.
Thakur, who leads the Chennai-based Tamil Thalaivas franchise in PKL, also thanked Himachal's Director General of Police S.R. Mardi and Inspector General of Police Himanshu Mishra for their continous support.
(Kaushik Kumar can be contacted at email@example.com)