Sports in India slowly resume with riders


India sports will resume May 2020 Image:

The Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) in India ruled recently that stadia in the country can reopen, although events with crowds will still not be allowed.

India has extended its lockdown until May 31 but has eased a lot of restrictions as the lockdown enters fourth phase. The ruling on stadia would allow sporting events to resume behind closed doors.

The latest guidelines on the extension of lockdown from the Central Government have finally opened up the specter of training for athletes across India, with caveats.

“Sports complexes and stadia will be permitted to open only for sports activities. However, spectators will not be allowed in these complexes,” the MHA note stated.

This has allowed the crème de la crème of athletes, many of who are stuck in their hostel rooms at various Sports Authority of India (SAI) centers across the country, to resume their practice and workouts. The athletes have been restricted since mid-March when India went into lockdown mode.

Track and field athletes in India returned to outdoor training on Monday after two months of being confined to their rooms due to the coronavirus-forced lockdown but the early focus will be entirely on their fitness regimens to avoid injury.

Athletics Federation of India (AFI) President Adille Sumariwalla said that all the athletes based at NIS-Patiala, SAI Centre in Bengaluru and Ooty has started “outdoor fitness” training from Monday.

On May 17, the Government of India permitted the use of stadia and sports complexes without spectators and under strict guidelines which allowed the athletes to return to outdoor training.

On May 19, the AFI had issued its own Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) for outdoor training of the sportspersons, which included bar on handshakes, hugging, spitting, and visits to salons. The athletes have been told to train under strict social distancing guidelines.

According to the SOPs, the athletes are prohibited from training if they have flu-like symptoms such as sneezing, coughing, difficulty in breathing, fatigue, or if they have been in close contact with someone who showed such symptoms.

The campers have also been directed not to exercise/train/walk in groups and that they should maintain a safe distance of at least 2 meters from others during training as well as other times.

They have been asked to carry their own water bottle, energy drinks as well as hand sanitizers and towels.

The athletes have been told not to touch others’ belongings and to sanitize all handled equipment prior to use and after, for example shots, javelins and discus, and to clean them with a disinfectant spray at the conclusion of training.

The AFI tentatively plans to begin the season from September 12 this year with three national championships being squeezed to less than 45 days.

Indian Premier League (IPL)

Cricket’s Indian Premier League (IPL) is one of the country’s major sports competitions to be hit by COVID-19, with its 2020 season having been suspended until further notice. The Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) said that the league would only commence when it is safe and appropriate to do so. The IPL had originally been due to run from March 29 to May 24 this year.

The 13th edition of the IPL, which was scheduled to start in March, was indefinitely suspended due to the pandemic, which has also put in doubt this year’s T20 World Cup in Australia.

In a bid to resume cricket, boards across the globe are looking to ensure a bio-secure environment which includes mandatory quarantine periods and other safety protocols.

India’s Sports Minister Kiren Rijiju has made it clear in no uncertain terms that any decision along the lines of allowing the currently suspended-IPL to commence would have to be taken by the Government and not the BCCI, depending on the situation in the battle against the coronavirus pandemic.

Commenting on IPL 2020 which is currently suspended indefinitely, Sports Minister Rijiju said that it is up to the Government to take a call about hosting any tournament in the country.

“In India, the Government has to take a call and it will be depending on the situation of the pandemic, how we progress as a nation,” Rijiju told mediapersons.

“We can’t put health of the nation at risk just because we want sporting events to be held. Our focus is fighting COVID-19 and at the same time we will have to work a mechanism to get back to normalcy. It is difficult to confirm dates but I am sure we will have some kind of sporting events this year,” Rijiju added.

“We have been working for quite some time now to resume sporting activities but before that we have to think about practice and training. We are not going to have a tournament kind of situation immediately,” Rijiju explained.

The BCCI, the richest cricket body in the world, had said it would consider staging the cash-rich IPL in October-November if the T20 World Cup, which is scheduled to take place in Australia, gets postponed.

The IPL is worth almost $530 million to the BCCI and attracts the pick of international and Indian cricketers. It was scheduled to start at the end of March but was indefinitely postponed because of the coronavirus pandemic which has also hit India hard.

When will sports return in India?

Sports bodies in India are drawing up plans to restart training as MHA slightly eased lockdown in the country and allowed sports complexes and stadia to open sans spectators.

National Sports Federations (NSFs) discussed ways to facilitate training of at least the Olympic-bound athletes as the lockdown has been extended till May 31.

“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,” Rijiju tweeted.

The Table Tennis Federation of India sought written consent from its top 16 players to join a training camp but the wary paddlers said they would prefer to “wait a while”.

The shooting federation said it was already working on a resumption plan given that the sport is individual and ensuring social distancing won’t be an issue.

Elimination of low-ventilation change rooms, disinfection of training equipment after every use, and usage of gyms in shifts are some of the measures that the SAI has proposed to counter the COVID-19 threat once training resumes.

It has also suggested making the Aarogya Setu app mandatory for all athletes and staff, strict social distancing at training venues, use of PPE kits by medical practitioners on duty, and stringent supervision of athletes’ health.

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