SPORTS IN PANDEMIC

No time for games, Covid keeps sporting activities at bay

Wait for resumption gets stretched, national-level players continue to suffer as state allows only golf, yoga & athletics to kick back into action

No time for games, Covid keeps sporting activities at bay

A view of wild growth at the Gandhi ground in Amritsar.

Neeraj Bagga

Tribune News Service

AMRITSAR, JULY 31

The entire sports calendar this year has been in pandemic’s grasp with no signs of slipping out of it. All competitions were wiped off, preparation of players severely hit ever since the virus broke out and the ensuing lockdown did the rest of work. A screeching halt of all sporting activities was witnessed globally and here as well.

With their respective games shuttered, the players and coaches were confined to their houses. All of it was so sudden and plans were thrown so off balance that they are still picking up the pieces. Many prominent faces, just over a month after the restrictions had set in, gained weight and saw fitness levels dwindle drastically.

Eventually, coaches moved to online mode of training. They started video-conferencing, online sessions and telephones to get in touch with players. For physical fitness, players carried out practice sessions at their houses, came up their own equipments and drills. But all along these tough months technical training remained fully suspended. Only in May had the NIT Patiala resumed outdoor training laden with stringent precautionary measures, but only the Olympics-bound athletes were allowed to train.

Coming down to the national-level players, even a nutritious diet was something they have had a hard time getting their hands onto as they could neither stock nor buy due to the closure of shops and markets.

Prabhdeep, an athelete, says “In track and field games players depend upon 33 per cent nutritious diet, 33 per cent training and equal proportionate of technique.” But the recent times had deprived him of it. Not only this, the school and university level games have suffered. A complete year of all beginners of sports has been washed away as the pandemic enforced closure at the time when new sessions start ie March and April. Thus, educational institutions saw a big fall in sports quota admissions as many did not enroll themselves in games at all. Similarly, competitions like inter-school, inter-district games, inter-state games etc could not be held. Usually, these competitions commence from July-August and help in gradation besides future job prospects.

Ishwanpreet Singh, a national-level swimmer, rues that he could not participate in the Senior State Championships, usually held in July or August, which could have paved his way for the Senior Nationals. “These championships are very helpful in getting jobs,” he says, before lamenting the lack of infrastructure, “Since we do not have an indoor gymnasium in the entire district we lost touch with the game when the winter had set in last November.” And then the pandemic struck down his and peers’ plans — there are 28 swimming players, including eight girls, in the district. Of these, 14 have participated in national competitions.

Meanwhile, a large number of sports infrastructure available in the city remained underutilised. The holy city boasts off grounds like the Gandhi Ground, used for cricket, Guru Nanak stadium, for athletics, hockey and bodybuilding, wrestling stadium, the swimming pool and gymnasium in Gol Bagh, Guru Nanak Dev University’s badminton hall, AstroTurf, swimming pool, football ground, velodrome and archery compound in remained out of bound for players.

Though Union and state government initiated several measures under the unlocking phase, still, many games remain untouched. Experts are of the view that touch and exchange of breathe are almost unavoidable in many games – boxing, swimming, tennis, badminton to name a few. A small mistake can prove costly for the health of players which would have a cascading impact on their long term career.

Therefore, it is natural that many players and coaches have flayed the government for ignoring the needs and not chalking out any plans which could help in maintaining minimal physical contact and technical training sessions. “The department got instructions to open up three games, including yoga, golf and athletics for players,” says Gurlal Singh, district sports officer. He added: “Gradually all games would be opened but competitions may take some time to take place.”

He says that these restrictions were neither state nor district specific. He also told that at many places stadiums were converted into hospitals to house the virus-stricken patients.

Acclaimed players of the district

Arjuna awardees Harcharan Singh Brig (retd), hockey, and Suman Sharma (basketball), Olympians Hardeep Singh Bhullar (kabaddi), Balwinder Singh (hockey), Jugraj Singh (hockey), Dilpreet Singh and Harmanpreet Singh (hockey), 2018 Asian Games bronze medallists, Arpinder Singh (triple jump), gold medallist at 2018 Asian Games, Gurjeet Kaur (hockey), a silver medallist at 2018 Asian Games, Navjot Kaur Dhillon (discus thrower) and bronze winner at 2018 Commonwealth Games.

Liquor vends and public places like the malls were opened but playgrounds continue to remain closed for players where at least they can ensure social distancing. At the international level, the resumption should be fast-tracked as players are losing that feel of competing, which takes them to extra-mile amid preparations. Rankirat Singh Sandhu, Athletics coach

As far as swimming is concerned, the governement has taken the right decision as the infection spreads rapidly in the water. Many are sure to suffer due to decision but health is first. Risking of lives isn’t going to benefit anyone. Swimming with a player infected with cough and cold is sure to pass on the infection to other players. Vinod Sangwan, a Swimming coach

Physical fitness was maintained through online classes. Each batch containing 20 players was trained through an app. It is necessary for this game, as it demands body preparation, flexibility, zumba, belle dance and strength training. If we do not keep them engaged, they will have to start afresh after such a long gap. Neetu Bala, Gymnastic coach

I participated in senior national and All-India Inter-University Games. In an aerobic game like swimming, gym comes secondary, which was not allowed. Third comes running, which was allowed on roads a month ago. However, long exposure to road running can be harmful to body, and last is cycling but it does not burn enough calories. Ishwanpreet Singh, a National Level Swimmer

Having played in the National Junior Athletics Championships last year and National School Games in 2018 I was to prepare for Under-20 this year. I was expecting tougher competition there to improve the throw with 1.75 kg iron ball from 53.34 metre to a new level. However, the Asian Junior Athletics Championship got postponed in May. Harnoor Singh, Discus thrower

I had taken part in the third Dubai International Rhythmic Gymnastics TU Cup held in 2018. The game requires certain infra and equipment like floor, arena, gym and other operatives which one cannot keep at home. Despite online training, we were certain that many flaws in movements would have gone unnoticed. Anikta Sachdeva, a Gymnast

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