Mr. Parvin Dabas, the founder of the coveted Pro Panja League, the biggest arm-wrestling league in the world, recently elaborated on how sports tourism is making its influence in the country, at the International Sports Summit Kerala (ISSK), the first-ever hybrid sports summit in India.
The concept of sports tourism is a newly developing idea in the country. Creating a hybrid between tourism goals and sporting goals, sports tourism can achieve two things at once: the promotion of a tourist destination as well as the sport being conducted there as well.
The Pro Panja League, which was brought to life just prior to the COVID-19 Lockdown in 2020, has been heavily working on the concept of sports tourism. From growing itself into the biggest arm-wrestling league in the world with a record 32 million viewership(unique users), the league’s specialty not only lies in bringing the indigenous sport to the masses but also in intertwining the art of Panja to some of the most prominent tourist destinations in the country- spearheading the concept of sports tourism.
Dabas Shares his Views on Sports and the Economy
Speaking at the ISSK, Mr. Dabas spoke about how he thought of bringing together sports tourism with arm wrestling, the success of Pro Panja, as well as Kerala becoming “Panja’s Own Country”.
“Sports in changing in the country, and we have realized the soft power importance of sports in the country, in each building and also the sports economy,” said Mr. Dabas at the summit. “I have to say its always very lovely coming back to Kerala, its a state I have a deep connection with, a long connection with. My first film was a Malayalam film it was called Ayyappantamma Neyyappam Chuttu. Even now I have a hard time pronouncing it but we shot it on the backwaters of Alleppey. So I started film tourism much before sports tourism. But now after 20 years in the film industry, I feel I have a much bigger role to play. Sports, which has always been my pen and love. And I saw the potential for arm wrestling or panja if we call it, to be a sport of the masses. Or as we have called it, ‘Bharat ka khel’, the people’s game.”
Pro Panja is a People’s league
“If you see the short form of Pro Panja League- PPL, meaning ‘People’. What is great about this game is, it has a very low financial entry point for all kinds of athletes and youth. We have been donating arm wrestling tables also across the country to encourage building the sport. We have been donating it to school and colleges also. It keeps the youth into sports and away from other things.”
“We are the only league in the country which is all inclusive. On one single platform, we have men, women, and specially abled- all on the same platform. They all get the same fame, according to their ranking they get the same facilities as well. Since its an indigenous sport, arm wrestling is a very ancient Indian sport, many countries played it, and it is known as both indigenous and as an international sport which is of great benefit to the sport.”
Kerela: the hub of Indian Arm Wrestling
“Now coming to Kerala, I have to say that 40% of our arm wrestlers come from Kerala. Not many people know this. When I tell them that, they are surprised. So I have to say I shared a joke with the Kerala Arm Wrestling Association Secretary, that “What is in the water of Kerala that so many Panja champions come out of Kerala?”
“I’m grateful to the Kerala Govt that arm wrestling or panja is already a recognized sport in Kerala. It takes a lot of the state’s support, and since Mr Piyush Jain was talking about recognition right now, this is a good time to request him to expand it to national recognition as well.”
“Our first season winners were also not surprisingly the Kochi KD’s team in the Pro Panja League. So as you can see what I’m trying to say is Pro Panja has a huge community base and athlete base in Kerala. […]
Pro Panja: One of India’s top sports league
“Not many people had much hope of this game from us. A lot of people thought its a small game but we surprised everyone. In our first season, we had 32 million unique viewers on Sony Sports and DD Sports and next year we are counting 60 million. If you look at per channel per day average, we are third in the country in our very first season after IPL and after Pro Kabaddi League, which shows that we must be doing something right that people in the country do love arm wrestling because of its simplicity, and being a sport of the masses.”
Sports Tourism is making an impact
“We launched Pro Panja League 3 weeks before the lockdown. It was a very big launch with the then sports minister Mr. Kiren Rijiju being there, and fortunately or unfortunately after 3 weeks we had the lockdown. And this comes to the sports tourism part what I was talking about- how is Pro Panja League related to sports tourism?”
“What we strategized at that time, during the lockdown, since we had a lot of time to strategize, is that to make the sport bigger, we want to put it in front of big tourist destinations. And once the lockdown was over we managed to do that. We played the sport in front of the Gateway of India, we played it in front of the Gwalior Fort, we played it inside a boat, on Bhopal Lake, we played it on top of a Goa casino, we even played it on the banks of the Chambal river, where bandits used to be, now there is Panja.”
“So the idea was to make the whole area into a stadium and include the tourist destination as the stadium and that would help both the sport become bigger and the tourist destination also. Everybody managed to build a lot of press, a lot of views and a lot of content from these tournaments that we did in front of these big tourist destinations.”
“Now according to us, there are two kinds of sports tourism- one is like the Olympics or FIFA, where a lot of people will come to see the sport in that destination. The second, is what we are doing, which is having the sport in front of a destination itself- the fort, the port- that destination becomes the part of the broadcast, and it is seen by millions and millions of people.”
“Otherwise if you see during Olympics or FIFA, you’re not actually seeing the destination, you’re seeing the stadium. You’re seeing bits of the city in between the broadcast. But here we are able to see that destination and take it to millions and millions of viewers.”
“Now arm wrestling or panja is the only sport where you can actually do this. Because it is not a very big playing field, the table size is not really big, we are able to sculpt it in front of this different tourists destinations and that is what has made it very, very popular. Like I said, we had 32 million views on TV but we also had 300 million views on social media, which nowadays if you scroll on Instagram you will definitely see an arm wrestling or panja video and you can thank us for that.”
“Now sports is bringing millions and millions of dollars into the economy. In Olympics, FIFA World Cup and various other international sports tournaments and I think panja has a natural integration into sports tourism. Right now the whole world wants to come to India to view arm wrestling because of the Pro Panja League, where its seen as the world’s biggest arm wrestling platform. We will be hosting an international, Asian-level event this year and next year as well and very soon the World Arm Wrestling Championships as well.”
Pro Panja in Kerela
“And here I’d like to make an announcement as well- the Kerala Government has been kind enough to join hands, and very soon, you will be seeing the Pro Panja League on a houseboat on the backwaters of Alleppey. So we are actually bringing sports tourism to Kerala and execute it effectively.”
“So far, Kerala has been known as “God’s Own Country” hopefully very soon it will be known as “Panja’s Own Country” as well. So again I’d like to thank Kerala Sports and Kerala Tourism. We very much look forward to partner with them in taking arm wrestling across the state. And just keep one thing in kind- every country in the world plays arm wrestling or panja, just like football, and every country is a potential tourism market.”