Srinivas Gowda, a 28-year-old construction worker, has been compared by local newspapers and journalists to Olympic gold medallist Usain Bolt. It was believed that Gowda has run 142 metres in 13.42 seconds. If this record is accurate, he is considered faster than Bolt, who still holding the 100-metre world record with 9.58 seconds in 2009.
The National General Secretary of BJP, P Muralidhar Rao has celebrated Gowda’s record on Twitter. He appreciated Gowda’s potential declaring that “India will rise and shine the Indic way!” He further states that proper training will “help [Gowda] to make name for the country.”
However, some commentators had raised their doubts on the comparison. In an interview with BBC Hindi, Prof K Gunapala Kadamba, the president of the Kambala Academy, has warned that the Olympic events have “more scientific methods and better electronic equipment to measure speed.”
Some experts noted that the claims do not account the mechanisms that helped Gowda reach remarkable speeds. Buffaloes can charge at speeds up to 56km/h, which is significantly faster than Bolt’s record. The buffaloes are outfitted with a plough as the participant matches and controls their speed. Speaking for The Guardian, Ángel David Rodríguez, the former Spanish record-holder for 100m in Kambala racing observes:
“This guy is fast, his body is strong. But to put simply, buffalo are faster than humans, so his job is to keep them straight and not fall down.”
Kiren Rijiju, India’s Sports Minister has posted on Twitter on 15 February that he had invited Gowda to the national trials for the Tokyo Olympics. He had spoken to the Sports Authority of India (SAI) Officials. He also arranged rail tickets for Gowda to travel to the centre run by SAI, where the trials will be held. The tweet has reached 9.7k retweets and has 44.9k likes.
Gowda has declined Rijiju’s offer after suffering from leg injuries. He said:
“Kambala and track events are different and those who have done well in one cannot replicate the other. Many who have achieved in track events have tried Kambala and have not been successful. In Kambala we run on heels whereas in track it is on toes.”
Kambala is an annual sports race originated in Karnataka, roughly translating to “paddy-growing mud field” in the Tulu dialect. Participants sprint in a muddy field, normally either 132 metres or 142 metres with two buffaloes tied together. It has been controversial sport in the past with strong objections from international animal rights activists.
In 2014, India’s Supreme Court banned races with bulls, following public campaigns against Jallikattu, a 2,000 years old bull-taming contest practiced in southern India. In Jallikattu, bulls roam freely with the crowd, as contestants grabs prizes from its sharp horns.
In 2016, Karnataka’s state court ordered a temporary stop to all Kambala events. The state allowed Kambala races again in 2018 but banned whips to make the sport more humane.
Kadamba said that the sport has been updated in response to concerns by the state court. He states: “This Kambala is quite different from the traditional Kambala that used to be practiced some decades ago.”
He further claims current and former students of Kambala Academy are now taught how to handle buffalos “without unnecessarily hurting the animal.”
Kambala continues to face criticisms from PETA India with their pending petition to the Supreme Court. The animal rights group has given detailed accounts of alleged cruelty to buffaloes from four events from December 2018 to February 2019. Their petition challenges the reinstatement of Kambala in Karnataka.