IN what will inevitably become a perfect Bollywood extravaganza, a previously unknown buffalo jockey has made the headlines across the world.

Srinivas Gowda, set a new record in a traditional footrace of man and beast. Not just any record, but one which has those salivating with comparisons to the great sprinter, Usain Bolt.

On a mud filled track, Gowda ran 142.50 meters in 13.62 seconds on January 31, setting the record in the traditional buffalo race known as Kambala.

The event is held every year in southern Karnataka state.

Gowda, a 28 year old construction worker, has become something of a national hero and social media sensation. Comparisons to Bolt were swift. Bolt is the fastest man alive with a record run of 9.58 seconds for the 100 meters in 2009.

Adjusting for the various factors involved, Gowda would have run 100 meters in 9.55 seconds, some 0.03 seconds faster than Bolt.

As a result, Gowda has been invited to the capital New Delhi for trials under the nation’s best sprint coaches. He is yet to decide to participate.

But the governing body for Kambala has warned against comparing him to Bolt.

“We would not like to indulge in any comparison with others,” Prof K Gunapala Kadamba, president of the Kambala Academy, told BBC Hindi.

“They [Olympic event monitors] have more scientific methods and better electronic equipment to measure speed.”

Prof Kadamba’s response came after several local newspapers and journalists made the comparison between Gowda’s performance and the Jamaican sprinter’s world record time.

Gowda, however, was more upbeat about his performance. He had taken part in the Kambala for seven years, because “I used to watch it in my school days.”

“In Kambala race, heels play an important role whereas it is toes in a track race. Not just jockeys, but even Buffaloes have a role to play in Kambala. In track race, this is not the case,” Gowda stated.

Kambala, which roughly translates to “paddy-growing mud field” in the local language Tulu, is a traditional sport originating from part of Karnataka’s coast.

Participants sprint through a field, which is normally either 132m or 142m, with two buffalo that are tethered together.

It is controversial, and in the past the sport has attracted strong criticism from international animal rights groups.

In 2014, India’s Supreme Court issued a ban on races with bulls, prompted primarily by campaigns against the practice of Jallikattu, a form of bull-fighting from the neighbouring state of Tamil Nadu.

Two years later, Karnataka’s state court issued an interim order stopping all Kambala events.

Prof Kadamba said that the organising body had responded to this, updating the sport in order to make it more humane.

He said their current and former students – including Mr Gowda – are now taught how to deal with buffalo “in a humane manner without unnecessarily hurting the animal”.

In 2018, the state started allowing Kambala races to take part again, but issued several conditions – including a ban on the use of whips.

But the practice is still under threat. International animal rights group Peta has a petition pending in the Supreme Court, arguing that Karnataka’s reinstatement of Kambala was illegal.

“This Kambala is quite different from the traditional Kambala that used to be practised some decades ago,” Prof Kadamba added.

Ludo Aequitas would love to see a match race between Gowda and Bolt over 100 meters – both with and without the buffalo.

Ludo Aequitas – Equality Through Sport

 

Image via News Track English

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