While the players and coaches make up the glamorous side of VIVO Pro Kabaddi, the people behind the scenes - the referees – often don’t get their due. Their role, however, is the most vital when it comes to keeping things under control and ensuring fair play. To get insights into this important role, caught up with former national-level kabaddi player and current league referee Ajit Kumar Bidhuri.

Bidhuri’s fascination with the sport started at a young age when he used to watch his seniors from school and also his uncle, a former kabaddi player, in action. He took up the sport and excelled at it, even playing nationals for four years before being forced to quit due to an injury. But his desire to be associated with kabaddi continued and paved the way for his current profession.

“I played nationals for four years before picking up an injury,” said Bidhuri, “After finishing college I couldn’t continue to play because it wasn’t a financially viable option at the time so I became a physical education teacher. I wanted to try and help the children achieve what I couldn’t.”

Even that wasn’t enough for Bidhuri, and he soon started officiating matches. “Initially I started off keeping scores for matches before moving on to officiating,” he revealed, “I became a full-time referee only once VIVO Pro Kabaddi started, before that I used to be a referee at the odd national or local level tournament. After officiating at VIVO Pro Kabaddi people know who I am and call me to officiate or be guest of honour at other tournaments. It feels good to have made a name for myself in the sport that I love.”

So, what does it take to referee a match where one decision could change the course of the entire league? “Communication is the key,” responded Bidhuri before adding, “It is important for each and every one to be on the same page as even one loose cog could affect the functioning of the entire team. Sometimes, we cannot communicate verbally because of how noisy the stadium is so we have to pass on the message using eye contact or physical gestures.”

Bidhuri also acknowledged the pressures of a job in which thousands of fans are watching you live in the stadium and on television. “I feel the referees are under more pressure than the players,” he said. “The players can be revived after one bad tackle or raid but a referee cannot take back a decision once it is made. Hence we have to do our homework before the match on each of the players’ game and the possible scenarios that could unfold.”

Shedding some light on the effect VIVO Pro Kabaddi has had on the general perception of the sport he loves, he proceeded: “Before VIVO Pro Kabaddi the standard of the sport had fallen because the players did not have an adequate platform. But now it has spread from traditional kabaddi strongholds such as Delhi and Haryana to places where one would never have expected the sport to be played a few years ago. Earlier it was confined to children from rural backgrounds but now even children from urban schools have taken a liking to the sport, which is heartening to see.”

After seeing the growth of kabaddi in recent years, the referee hopes that one day kabaddi will take its place among the Olympic sports. “I hope one day kabaddi will be a part of the Olympics. I can’t say how long it will take but I am sure it will soon make its way there,” concluded Bidhuri.