Athletes uncertain about returning for training amid risk of virus spread
While reopening of stadiums and sports complexes after about two months of shutdown has come as a major relief for the sports fraternity in India, the Home Ministry denied the entry public viewing in these facilities. However, taking cognizance of the current crisis, the focus now lies in kick-starting aggressive training of athletes in the national camps and training centres to prepare them for the Olympic Games and other sporting events.
After weeks of deliberation with the Sports Ministry, the Athletics Federation of India on May 19 decided to reopen its training facilities such as outdoor training and weight training for its athletes. The federation released a Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) detailing safety guidelines for the athletes to prevent contraction from COVID-19 disease.
However, even as national federations are planning on restarting their facilities, players have reportedly expressed hesitance in attending camps in other cities due to increased risk of virus transmission. Leading Table Tennis players such as Sharath Kamal and G Sathiyan have told media that they were not comfortable in travelling to training centres in Sonipat and Kolkata as pandemic woes continue. Notably, the number of infected cases in India has crossed the 1 lakh mark and that number is continuously rising.
From coaches to players, rigorous training is crucial for any competition. It is important to note that sports players and other stakeholders including coaches and trainers are spread across the country. Assembling these players from different states to training camps amid lockdown restrictions is in itself a mammoth task for the national sports federations.
Implementation of protocols under the Standard Operating Procedure issued by the Sports Ministry and Sports Authority of India (SAI) to federation is another concerning matter as sports fraternity strategizes on getting back on the field.
Among the various precautionary measures, maintaining social distancing and infection-free environment at training facilities will prove to be particularly challenging. It is will be difficult for athletes competing in games such as wrestling, judo, and boxing to play without contact. As per SOP issued by the SAI, athletes in contact sports are required to train individually without engaging in physical combat with other athletes. They are restricted from sharing their personal equipment such as masks, mouth guard, wrist banks, gloves, training uniform, etc. AFI chief AdilleSumariwalla also announced that no Indian athlete will be travelling to abroad this year to ensure their safety.
Amid these circumstances, Indian Olympic Association President Narinder Batra on May 17 wrote to Sports Minister Kiren Rijiju requesting for one-time financial assistance of over Rs 200 crore for various sports governing bodies. In the letter, he asserted that if the grant is not provided, it would be difficult for sports bodies to restart the operations smoothly after lockdown is lifted.
“All sports competitions training and other related activities have come to a standstill and now in order to restart all these activities, it will require a lot of financial support to IOA/NSFs/SOAs,” he said in the letter.