Kabbadi Cops!

Who would have expected kabaddi, the 4,000-year-old indigenous sport of India, to be taken up by Canadians – huge, powerfully built, mostly white cops no less? Kabaddi Cops, a short film by Greg Cote documents the amazing spectacle of white Canadian police officers – shorn of their uniforms and guns – clad only in shorts forming rings on the playing field, hands raised, moving as blithely as ballet dancers and yet as sleekly as tigers in the fierce kabaddi dance of raiders and defenders. It is the only non-Asian kabaddi team anywhere in the world.

Their opposing team? Young men from the local Punjabi community in Ontario. Yes, South Asian youth, sometimes misunderstood and troubled, are generally on the receiving end of negative police attention. Here the two teams are equals, each learning to see the other as real individuals and not just as troubled people or a feared authority.

Cote, who produced and directed the film, is himself a former police officer and was inspired by the efforts of Inspector Barry Dolan who in 2002 came up with the Police Kabaddi team to ease tensions and bring about harmony and trust between the police and the South Asians, after a protest against racial profiling at the Peel police station.

Dolan formed a kabaddi team of police officers from his department, street cops who knew nothing about kabaddi or South Asian culture. The team practiced hard on their days off, even in the snow in minus three-degree temperatures, and began competing in tournaments and festivals to the delight and surprise of South Asian spectators. As Dolan says, “The more time you spend learning about another culture, the more you grow to love it and respect it.”


Kabaddi, which is a cross between rugby and wrestling, was quite a learning experience for the Kabaddi Cops. The team captain Constable Dirk Niles said, “I never knew it was bare foot, bare back, no mouth guard and running around out on the field.” As one cop John McCallum comments in the film, “If a group of people who are mainly white like me can take on the masters of the game, I’m really impressed!”


According to Cote, the Indian Kabaddi teams are mostly locals, however from time to time professional players from India join the various teams: “The police team will be playing in various tournaments for a fourth consecutive year once the 2007 season begins. The police team has won about half of their games and lost about half. Not bad for a team with limited skills and experience compared to the Indian teams, some of whose players have played this sport all their life.”

Cote says the film is his attempt to amplify the voices of a few officers attempting to bring about change within their own police department and to make police departments more user friendly for the visible minority immigrant. Kabaddi Cops showed recently at the IAAC Film Festival in New York where it won the best short documentary award and also won over Salman Rushdie: “The idea of a bunch of Canadian policemen learning kabaddi in order to integrate with the Asian community is something I wish to see!”


In recent months, Dolan has also formed a women’s police kabaddi team. Says Cote, “The team and I have attended numerous tournaments, festivals and banquets. There is even a movement afoot to send the police kabaddi team to India and believe me, I will be there for that spectacle!”

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