LIKE a retreating raider, Prem Singh is trying to catch his breath. An honorary Glaswegian who moved north from Birmingham around four decades ago, Singh is the founder member of Scottish Kabaddi and the driving force behind the inaugural season of the British Kabaddi League that has its grand finale at Glasgow’s Bellahouston Sports Centre this weekend.

Originating in India, kabaddi first piqued the British public’s curiosity back in the early 1990s when it was a Sunday morning staple on Channel 4. Two teams would line up on either side of the court, with the attacking team sending over one of their raiders to try to tag an opponent and get safely back across the midway line before they could wrestle him to the ground. To add to the complexity, the attacker had to complete his mission in a single breath, uttering the phrase “kabaddi, kabaddi” over and over to prove, like Bill Clinton, that they hadn’t inhaled. It was both dazzlingly complex but also beautifully simple at the same time, the perfect hangover viewing.

That spirit remains the same 30-odd years later but as a sport it has grown dramatically in the intervening period, most notably in India where it has gone professional and is now racking up bigger television viewing figures than Test cricket. It is the number one sport in Bangladesh, Iran are the world champions and is also hugely popular in Poland, the European champions, and among MMA practitioners.

Singh witnessed the growth of the sport worldwide and wanted to test the waters to see if it could catch on in the UK too. And so the British league was formed, an exhaustive project that involved going into communities of major cities around the country – including Glasgow and Edinburgh – to see if there would be sufficient interest in building and hosting a team.

After that there was the logistical headache of organising fixtures in Wolverhampton, Manchester, Birmingham and now Glasgow where eight teams – including the Glasgow Unicorns and Edinburgh Eagles – will juke it out for the honour of becoming the first British champion, the excitement all unfolding live on BBC iPlayer and the BBC Sport website. At its conclusion Singh will likely slump into a chair and take a long deep breath, relieved to have the first season over and done with.

“It’s been a really crazy time trying to organise it all,” he admits. “It’s been very challenging because nothing like this has been done before. We’re in new waters and we’re learning so much with every event and trying to be a little bit better.

“But the success of this particular project isn’t necessarily delivering a tournament. It’s been getting eight cities and four councils to work together in partnership, setting up community organisations, going out and finding players and getting them trained in the sport, finding coaches and the rest.

“The potential was there ever since the pro kabaddi league launched in India. It went from a rural village game to an international game within about two years. City teams in India became international franchises worth several million pounds each.

“There was investment in players, technology and production and it became one of the fastest growing sports in the world, and the fastest in India where it is now outperforming Test and one-day cricket.

“The interest here in the UK is growing as more people find out about it. It’s a sport made for television, it gets you on the edge of the seat.

“It’s like the team version of MMA. What other sport is there where a single raider has to go up against seven opponents in one go? And they can all make physical contact with him or her. So that takes a little bit of attitude.

“Everyone knows kabaddi used to be on Channel 4 so when you talk to people they always remember that and how exciting it was to watch. That left a lasting impression with people. We’ve just reignited and repackaged that and given more of a community angle to it.”

Glasgow has been home for Singh now for almost 40 years. He can recall the early days of kabaddi when it was very much deep-rooted among the Indian community across the city, the team’s sponsors often the local takeaways who would chuck in whatever they could afford in return for a logo on a team shirt. That much-needed early support has not been forgotten.

“I moved up here when I was about 24 or 25 and couldn’t really think of ever living anywhere else,” he added. “And the idea for this British league was formed here in Glasgow alongside people like John Jackson and Jagir Gil who have pulled it all together to make it happen.

“Back at the start our sponsors were all local Indian restaurants and takeaways who would give us £50 a week to help pay for training. When we went to our first European event we had about 15 logos on our shirts. Everyone thought we were rolling in money! But we still have all those logos now. We’re not letting go of our roots.”

Free tickets to watch the British Kabaddi League finals in Glasgow are available on Eventbrite. The event will also be broadcast on the BBC iPlayer.