With the Ministry of Home Affairs clearing the path for opening stadiums and sports complexes without spectators after almost two months due to coronavirus pandemic, the discussion has now shifted towards restarting the national camps for at least Olympic Games-bound athletes.
The Athletics Federation of India and Hockey India had been petitioning the sports ministry to restart outdoor training for athletes at the earliest as most of them were in lockdown at NIS, Patiala or SAI centre in Bengaluru and hence following the necessary protocols for their training was relatively easy.
They would have heaved a sigh of relief when sports minister Kiren Rijiju tweeted, “I’m happy to inform sportspersons and all concerned that sports activities will be conducted in sports complexes and stadia strictly in accordance with MHA guidelines and that of the States in which they are situated.”
But for other sports federations restarting the camps is going to be a challenge.
The Table Tennis Federation of India had sent a missive to the players about the idea of starting the camp by the end of this month but the players are not very keen to travel away from their home base to attends the camp in either Sonepat or Kolkata as they don’t feel that it is worth the risk of travelling to these centres.
“We were asked to join camp at the end of the month but I feel it is too early for that. Cases continue to rise and travel restrictions are in place. Training can wait until situation improves significantly,” world number 31 Achanta Sharath Kamal was quoted as saying by PTI.
The Boxing and Wrestling Federations proposal of holding camps in Sonepat and Rohtak have also received mixed response from the players with some wondering whether moving to the SAI facilities was a good idea given that sparing will not even be allowed and they could do their personal training from the confines of their homes.
It is learnt that none of these players have officially taken any stand on attending the camps if they start but have informally discussed the situation with the concerned authorities.
The biggest question that has been worrying the federations is the implementation of the Standard Operating Procedure that were circulated by the Sports Ministry after consulting with the federations.
According to the SOP, circulated by the Sports Ministry a few days ago, it is the responsibility of the Federations to ensure that all the protocols are adhered to while training.
The biggest challenge at these camps is going to be providing well-ventilated separate rooms for all athletes as per the protocol suggested and ensuring that all other safety measures are in place.
Among the other federations, National Rifle Association of India is keen to resume camps and competitions stating that ensuring physical distancing won’t be an issue in shooting.
However, the bigger challenge would be getting the players, who are spread all across the country, to one venue and make them spend at least two weeks in quarantine before starting coaching activities.
Instead, it could just be easier for the players to train their home base until a clearer picture emerges.
Even badminton head coach Pullela Gopichand admitted that there was no plan to start training at the academy anytime soon and has adopted a wait and watch policy for now.
For administrators, coaches and even sports persons, restarting full fledged training is an important step towards getting back to competition. But even more important from the players point of view is the feeling of safety when they have to return to the common training facilities at national camps because even a small doubt can be detrimental to their mental wellbeing.