Pandemic and the Olympics

S. R. Suryanarayan



Photo: AP

When the recently stopped Indian Premier League was going on smoothly with players, many of them already spoken of as legends in the sport, going about their job in all seriousness with a legion of fans enjoying the action on television, there was this sudden rise of sentiments against this sporting spectacle. The pandemic was turning grave and with the tale of woe and sorrow gaining intensity, was it appropriate to continue a sporting venture of IPL nature was the theme of the growing sentiments. As it happened or as luck would have it, the presumed secure bio-bubble the cricket authorities had laid with immense care breached and out went the cricketing action to turn the TV screens blank for the followers of the sport.

Some like feelings cross the minds as the day nears for the world's greatest sporting extravaganza, the Olympics. Postponed from 2020 because of Covid with the hopes of conducting it this year with a presumed calm settings, the pandemic has only thrown up questions. Rather the citizens of host city Tokyo themselves have raised doubts whether an event of such a magnitude that would involve over 10,000 sporting personnel from all parts of the globe, could be held at all with the virus threatening from sides. As if to add punch to their dissent was the medical panel wanting the authorities to have a re-think. Billions of dollars have been invested in this Games and understandably the key stake holders, the International Olympic Committee, which is responsible for organising the summer Games, is clear. “The Games will be held”. That was IOC President Thomas Bach's statement. Not much later IOC Vice President, John Coates, who is in-charge of the Tokyo Games reiterated that even if the City was to come under a state of emergency, the Games would open as planned.

That is confidence needed for the occasion. Sporting activities after all have not been grounded to a halt in the world. In Europe and in England, football activities were in full swing. Why the FA Cup final which Leicester City won to make history was played in front of a huge crowd in Wembley, a huge departure from the current norm of 'action in empty stadium'. The Bundesliga was on in Germany with Bayern Munich's Robert Lewandowski working up a personal goal-scoring record. And there was this goal machine Luis Suarez scripting a memorable Spanish league title for Athletico Madrid Things obviously were more sports-friends in this part of the world but disappointments and pain have been ruling in most others. Add to that the trail of sorrow with many sportspersons and officials, known and unknown the world over, as also those who had a distinguished career in the past, succumbing to the deadly virus.

In India in recent times three well known sportspersons had breathed their last. Hockey stalwarts, Olympians M.K. Kaushik and Ravinderpal Singh, both died on the same day. The two were members of the gold-medal winning team of 1980 Moscow Olympics, the last time India had won an Olympic medal of that hue in hockey. Kaushik had thereafter become Coach of distinction having guided the men's team to it last ever major tournament win in the 1998 Bangkok Asian Games. Also he had coached the Indian women's team which had won a bronze medal in the 2006 Doha Asian Games. A few days later came another poignant episode with the passing of V. Chandrasekhar, one of India's finest table tennis player, a three time national champion and later to turn a very respected coach who had a hand in the rise of several of current day's top TT players. Just days prior to his untimely death, he had spent lot of time with young aspirants in his Academy all eager to hone their skills under the master craftsman. Chandra was considered a fighter during his playing days and when a botched up knee surgery left him in a disastrous physical state, he fought his way back to become a Coach and start an Academy of his own to impart excellence. Alas the battle against the Virus proved otherwise.

These are then not easy times. For the sportspersons too who have been aspiring to get a berth or peak for the Olympics there have been hurdles at every turn. Nothing would reflect this more than the two badminton hopefuls Saina Nehwal and K Srikanth. Both of them were nearing the qualifying stage based on their expectations of garnering points in the remaining tournaments in the run up to the Olympics. But tournament cancellations here and there have harmed their cause. A bronze medallist in the London Olympics in 2012, Saina missing will be a big blow. Much will depend now on P.V. Sindhu, Sai Praneeth and the doubles pair of Chirag Shetty and Satwiksairaj Rankireddy if India had to bag a medal or two in badminton. Even here Sindhu had looked the brightest prospect for India, being the reigning world champion and a silver medallist in Rio last. She seemed on course but lately has fallen in standards, judged from her recent form. Whether she can still be considered a gold-medal prospect is a moot point.

As the great event nears there is bound to be more speculations but the prayer on every sports lovers' lips would be for a Games that still retains the all round splendour. Indeed what will a Games in pandemic times be, one wonders! Many a top athlete had become legend on the tracks of the Olympics. Just the name of Usain Bolt would flood the mind. His famous sprints with a roaring crowd enlivening his brilliant art. Not to forget was his 'lightening bolt' pose after each win with his Jamaican national flag wrapped on his body. How many millions of fans he would have driven to ecstasy with his amazing talent! Will such a setting ever return with a new hero? Or will it be the empty gallery that glares at achievements apart from television Cameras to beam the efforts across the globe? These are not normal times.

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