One year gone, what will it be for sports in general in 2021?
The New Year is just a few days away. Can 2021 prove lot more productive? Is there light at the end of the tunnel? Questions and questions that will keep bombarding the sports-minded and surely sportsperons because what is just going by is perhaps the worst year in the history of mankind. Certainly for sports, things cannot go worse than this. A year when even the Olympics had to be shelved, let alone the various championships and tournaments the world over, it will be with a lot of hope and aspirations that everyone will look up to the New Year. But then 2020 has brought about a new norm in sports thanks to the pandemic and it could take a lot of effort indeed for this to shake off and for the world to return to the boisterous and energy-packed scenario that sports would also wish to get associated with.
For all this, the old year cannot be erased from memory simply for the all round depression and calamity that it brought about in such unprecedented level. As if a reflection of the times or perhaps a reminder to us Indians on how bad the whole year was it would seem was the news from Australia with Indian crashing to its lowest total in Test cricket! It was in 1974 when Gavaskar and company had the mortification of being associated with what was then the lowest total of 42 in England. Now comes the scale down to 36, its lowest ever score in 88 years, and the cup of woe is complete. Heralded not long ago as the most exciting cricketing team in the world with prospects of snatching the top position, this defeat simply shatters that notion and gives way for the critics to have a field day. Debates are bound to swell in the days ahead on Indian players' capabilities against high class bowlers now with a pink ball in hand!
Though the cricketing holocaust in Adelaide may not be directly linked to any pandemic inducement, considering the conditions were same for both the teams like adherence to bio-bubble and the like, the result adds to the downswing of mood prevailing in the sporting circles in the country. Barring the few highs in the early part of the year in particular January, which did swell the pride of the Indians considering they came in Olympic sports and the year 2020 was marked for the Olympics in Tokyo. Sania Mirza for instance, made a memorable comeback to professional tennis from a 2-year break due to marriage and maternity, to win the doubles partnering Ukranian Nadia Kichenok in the Hobart International tournament. Soon came further happy tiding through wrestlers Bajrang Punia and Vinesh Phogat, both winning gold medals in a Ranking event in Rome, all in preparation for the Olympics. Indian hockey team warmed up to their Olympics plan with a fine win over Netherlands in an FIH event. Among the athletes, much talked about Javelin thrower Neeraj Chopra proved his mettle with an easy passage to Tokyo by clearing the qualification phase with ease. Undoubtedly the heart warming happenings appeared good omen for the Indians as the sights were pegged on the Tokyo mega event.
Then came the shock and thereafter the stillness. Pandemic took over. Sportspersons instead of being in the active mode were forced indoors. Sporting arenas became mute witness to the times. True a gradual change in sporting outlook came about before long in various parts of the world, in particular Europe where football activities made a start. Soon cricket series too followed but all in a new norm of empty stadia and bio-bubble. This inspired the Cricket Board in India to start action with the cash-rich IPL but in the Emirates. Meanwhile the AIFF in India took the initiative of starting off football activities through the I-;league qualifiers in Bengal. Still it was the start of ISL in Goa in November that was truly inspiring. With 11 teams in the fray and strict adherence to the new norms meant the near five-month programme (to end in March 2021) can be considered an answer to how a mega event could be held in extreme conditions like a pandemic.
Whether this would inspire other sports Federations to move forward, only time will tell. As Squash Federation's Secretary General, Cyrus Poncha, who is also the national coach, admitted, the world class Squash Academy in Chennai was thrown open in August for regular training with all the standard operating procedures. In normal times this Academy is the centre for various level of tournaments from world to state level, but so far no tournament could be conducted. “We are targeting February as the possible month for tournaments,” he said, hoping things would ease down further by then.
What is true of squash should also be the ground reality for various other disciplines, including Olympic sports, in the country. As a senior sports administrator and former IOA President Mr N. Ramachandran said it would be difficult for any sports federation or Association to make a rush in this matter. Stringent measures will be the norm in international meets and he cited the steps being planned by the Olympic Committee in Tokyo to ensure that the Games are held without a hitch, to back his view. One of the key look out currently is for the vaccine and once the sporting fraternity gets the benefit of this life saving dose, perhaps things would start moving. For the moment the hopes are for a bright 2021 for sports.