An idea first came to the mind of Tenzing Niyogi in April 2017. Now, on Sunday, just over five years later, yet another league dedicated to an indigenous Indian sport is set to be launched – Ultimate Kho Kho.

Six franchises will compete from August 14 to September 4 at the Balewadi Sports Complex in Pune in the inaugural season of a league that is promoting the ‘mud to mat’ transition of a game played more popularly at school-level.

Kho kho fit the bill perfectly for Niyogi.

“The idea came about five years ago when I conceptualised UKK over a laptop,” said the CEO and League Commissioner to

“I spoke to the federation and got Amit Burman, the former chief of Dabur, on board as the investor. We wanted to create something that we envisioned becoming India’s third largest league. The idea came out based on the viewership (figures) non-cricketing sports were garnering. The thinking was to look for a team sport, something intrenched in the Bharat market, the heartland of India. Indigenous sports, across countries, have a special place in people’s hearts.

“The idea was that once you say kho kho, you turn to nostalgia. We want people to remember that they’ve played this, and then get that curiosity to come out and see it.”

Steadily, six franchises came into being for the inaugural season and each set about creating their own squads. Eventually, 143 players were selected from a player draft last month, with the highest paid athletes – in Category A – bagging a salary of Rs 5 lakh.

For a sport that only started to transition from the traditional mud or sand courts to a synthetic padded mat, creating a made-for-television league meant getting in a great deal of research to find out the best camera angles that can be used for a superior viewing experience.

Players and Niyogi during a press conference ahead of the first UKK season

“We will have the live spider-cam. We’ve invested in that. Every small nuance has been kept in mind, the graphics, the camera angles,” Niyogi added.

He recalled organising a trial – so to speak – in January 2021 between prospective television production crews at the Indira Gandhi Indoor Stadium in New Delhi.

“TV production agencies were called in for the first time ever to pitch for an indigenous sport. To showcase what are the camera angles that can be used. We went to that kind of level to take sort of a test of TV production agencies to showcase what they can do in this fast-paced format,” he added.

“Kho kho has action all across, so to capture that we’ve invested a lot of time and money, in creating the format and angles. We’ve looked at it from a scientific perspective.

“And it came to the point where at the draft last month, all teams had digital data for the pool of 240 players from the last two senior national championships. When they were buying players, it was an informed decision.”

The Mumbai Khiladis franchise, though, has already started looking beyond the inaugural season.

“We decided not to be limited to the league,” said co-owner Punit Balan to this publication. He has been involved as an owner in other sports leagues like the Premier Badminton League and Ultimate Table Tennis.

“Once the first season ends, maybe after a two-month gap, we’ll hold a national scouting camp to try and decide our team for the next year. We want to start identifying and building the talent pool.”

And audiences, on social media, have already started to create a fan following for teams.

The Khiladis’ outfit is co-owned by popular rapper Badshah, and has already garnered over 24 thousand followers on Instagram – UKK has just over 14,000 at the time of writing. It’s the ‘star power’ impact a first-time league perhaps requires in order to get more attention before the wheel starts turning organically. It was a similar case with the Pro Kabaddi League, when it started in 2014, with Abhishek Bachchan as the owner of a franchise.

“That’s the effect of a star like Badshah coming in and contributing. With him, the impact has been a bit more because of the following he has himself. But he’s associated with the sport on a more emotional note, his mother played the sport at the national level,” Balan said.

“We’ve had our discussions internally that our focus will not be on the owners. No more than 25 percent can be on the owners. Most of it has to be on the players. We’re here to make them the superstars.”

The opening match of the event will be the Khiladis taking on the Gujarat Giants – owned by the Adani Group that has a team of the same name in Pro Kabaddi.

To a certain extent, it is through the PKL that the UKK draws some inspiration that a league based on an homegrown Indian sport can do well in the country.

“Kabaddi did pave the way for indigenous sport,” Niyogi added. “But I think kho kho needed its due recognition.”

That will come on Sunday.

UKK teams owners

Gujarat Giants
Adani Sportsline
Telugu Yoddhas
Chennai Quick Guns
KLO Sports
Rajasthan Warriors
Capri Global
Odisha Juggernauts
Odisha Sports Development and Promotion Company
Mumbai Khiladis
Balan Group and Badshah

The league will be broadcast live on the Sony Sports Network and on SonyLIV.