Challenges aplenty and a tough road ahead for Indian sports
Indian cricket is flourishing in the Gulf. The ongoing IPL is the proof. No matter that this is not happening in India but outside. Still India has found a way out of the pandemic mess to restart sporting activity. For the national level cricketers this has been a blessing. The event has come in handy to dust off the rustiness prior to more cricket series ahead, even as many other young aspirants have been grabbing the opportunity to catch the eyeball and make life in the sport secure, so to say.
For all this though there is still no clear indication yet that the Cricket Board would be able to open the doors for domestic cricket season, not to mention cricket at the junior level. Difficulties are plenty and the sad part is that the pandemic is still to ease out of the national borders.
Such being so, the life of sportspersons of other disciplines can only be imagined. It has been eight months since sporting activity at any level in the country had ground to a halt and all that has happened since has been a closed-door fitness regime at best. Whether one is in badminton, table tennis, boxing or athletics or even shooting, it has been for most part closed door practice and fitness exercise routines. Competitions are still far away.
True in recent times sports complexes in several parts of the country have been instructed to open out for the leading sportspersons, the kind who were in the scheme of things for participation in major events that were to take place in the year. But with the Standard Operating Procedures and other unavoidable conditions in place, it can never be smooth going. More importantly activities cannot ideally be held in an atmosphere where the mind is not free from the additional pressure of the Covid fears.
The wait has been going too long and already there is a feeling that a start has to be made but how is the question. The Athletics body in fact had planned a Grand Prix event in September but as the legend P T Usha was to state in an interview to a leading sports magazine, this was always impractical in the wake of the rising cases of the diseases and the kind of restrictions in place for travel, among other things. Not until early next year was her fear and the days ahead does not at the moment look rosy.
True with a sustained effort to create a bio-secure environment or a bio-bubble as they say, things could still happen. The AIFF has now stepped in to show this by launching the I-league qualifiers a few days ago. Stating that it was football that was providing the first sporting activity at all in India since the lockdown, the AIFF with a touch of pride announced that the five-team event to pick the side to join the Hero-I league 2020-21 edition would take place in two venues in Bengal with all the teams housed in one 5-star hotel. That is an encouraging beginning, something that other Sports Federations could well draw inspiration from.
What is worrying for many a sportsperson, be it an athlete or a badminton player or any other, is that the long unprecedented break from the sport could take away or rust what ever competitive build up done over for the months and years. To get fit or go through fitness regime and reach a peak is one thing but match fitness is quite another proposition. Some one like world badminton champion P.V. Sindhu would feel more because she is a kind of talent tuned to do wonders in the Olympic arena. Would this lay off from competition affect that, only time will tell. It would be similar uncertainty for athletes.
As Dutee Chand, 200 m silver medallist in the Jakarta Asiad 2018 and one who had been carrying dreams of a medal in the Tokyo Olympics stated in the media, the long break could be a back-breaker. Because regaining the earlier form was not easy. Though she had not wasted time to get back to the track after the Kalinga stadium in Bhubaneswar was opened for training purposes, it is mostly a journey of hope from here.
Truly these are challenging times for all and in particular the sportspersons whose livelihood in some cases is connected with achievements in their chosen field. What is there to show when competitions do not come about, is the question. Then again sports, whenever it starts, could never be the same again with empty stadium and mute atmosphere! Football, cricket and tennis at the international level have already provided glimpses of what is in store for the future.
Imagine a football tournament in Kerala, which generally would draw jam-packed crowd in the stadium, being held with none to watch and cheer! Such unthinkables would be many but currently the need is for optimism in large chunks. As Union sports minister Mr Kiren Rijiju put it in a Commonwealth Ministerial forum in July, it was time to look forward and see the opening of all sporting events to boost the confidence of the people in general.