How India’s Olympics-Bound Athletes Are Coping With Coronavirus

Countries closing borders, postponement of preparatory tournaments, rejection of visas and suspension of national camps are only some of the issues that plague India’s Tokyo Olympic medal hopefuls during the unprecedented global pandemic that is coronavirus.

With a little over four months remaining for this summer’s sporting extravaganza, many of India’s 74 qualified athletes are now in self-quarantine and pondering their next move with sporting activities suspended till the end of March.

Apart from the ones who have booked their tickets to Tokyo, several other contenders have been left scratching their heads after the suspension of zonal Olympic qualifiers and ranking tournaments.

Two weeks ago, frustration reached its peak when Indian badminton star Parupalli Kashyap requested the Badminton World Federation (BWF) to extend the Tokyo Olympic qualification period on social media.

The Arjuna awardee raised concerns about players who were on the borderline of the BWF Olympic qualification rankings, failing to make the cut due to the suspension of tournaments such as the Swiss Open and German Open.

With numerous tournament cancellations and camp suspensions, The Quint attempts to look at how the Indian Tokyo 2020 Olympic contingent is coping with the novel coronavirus outbreak.

Athletics

Bhawana Jat (centre) was part of the Indian contingent that was going participate in the Asian 20km Race Walk Championship in Japan.

The Asian 20km Race Walk Championship scheduled to be held on 15 March in Japan was cancelled last month, due to the coronavirus outbreak. As many as 13 Indians including Tokyo-bound Bhawana Jat were set to participate at the tournament, giving her much needed acclimatisation, four months before the games.

The 24-year-old was also likely to win a medal at the event if she matched her national record Tokyo Olympic qualification timing of 1.31:00.

" “My training has been good here with my personal coach in Jaipur and I had a strong chance for a medal, but what can be done now? I had also put in a request for a training camp in Japan, but couldn’t go because of the outbreak.”" - Bhawana Jat to The Quint

Asian Championship selected race walkers are currently training at the Sports Authority of India (SAI) campus in Bengaluru, which is also housing the Indian Men’s and Women’s Hockey team. However, Jat has decided not to travel to the camp till the end of March, which began on 5 March.

However, the Athletics Federation of India (AFI) has decided to go ahead with the scheduled dates for Indian Grand Prix (20 March) and Indian Grand Prix II (25 March) under closed doors.

Javelin hope Neeraj Chopra, who was training in Antalya, Turkey has been instructed a medical checkup before his return to India.

Archery

Atanu Das is one of the hopefuls from India to qualify for the Men’s individual Olympic category in archery.

The Indian Men’s recurve Tokyo Olympic Archery trio of Atanu Das, Tarundeep Rai and Pravin Jadhav are jostling to secure one of the three available Men’s individual Olympic berths at the National Team Trials in Army Sports Institute, Pune.

Along with the trio, five other archers – Vishwas (SSCB), Sukhmani Babrkekar (Maharashtra), B Dhiraj (Andhra Pradesh), Kapil (RSPB) and Jayanta Talukdar (Jharkhand) – are also competing for the coveted spot. The final four stages of trials have been postponed till the end of March.

The team was also training for the Hyundai World Cup stage 1 event in Guatemala, which has now been suspended till further notice. World Archery also suspended all international tournaments till the end of April.

Badminton

File photo of PV Sindhu, Kidambi Srikanth, Saina Nehwal.

As mentioned above, BWF has decided to suspend all international events including the Indian Open till 12 April, sparking an uproar among borderline shuttlers in the race for Tokyo rankings. The delays have serious repercussions as the cut-off date for Olympic qualification is 26 April.

Although no Indian shuttler has officially qualified for the Tokyo 2020 Olympics yet, the likes of doubles Olympic hopefuls Chirag Shetty and Satwik Rankireddy are all but confirmed a berth.

"“Both me and my partner will be practicing in our home towns till the camp resumes in Hyderabad. We did a calculation if would make it to Tokyo missing the events till end April, hence we pulled out of All England as well because of the virus outbreak. " - Chirag Shetty to The Quint

“If the situation doesn’t improve, we will might miss a few tournaments before Tokyo as well,” said Chirag from Mumbai.

The Gopichand Academy also decided to shut its doors for at least a week to monitor the ongoing virus outbreak. Two weeks ago, some of the top Indian shuttlers including Chirag vacated the Hyderabad camp’s premises after pulling out from the All England Open.

The shuttlers returning from England will follow a routine 14-day self-quarantine period based on prerequisite health clearances.

Boxing

Simranjit (left) and Vikas are the only Indian boxers to win silver medals at the recently concluded Asian Olympic Qualifiers in Jordan.

All 13 Indian pugilists who attended the Asian Boxing Olympic qualifier in Amman, Jordan have been asked to self-quarantine in their homes till 27 March. The decision was made to adhere to government regulations, after the squad’s pit-stop for a training camp in coronavirus-hit Italy. However, the camp was held in Assisi, a hill town in southern Italy, far from the outbreak affect area in the Lombardy region.

All boxers have been given the necessary health clearances, but are following the two-week protocol mentioned by the government of India. That being said, Boxing India will continue their camps for trials and sparring partners in Patiala, India’s High-Performance Director Santiago Nieva confirmed with The Quint.

"“We were training in southern Italy and when we realised the outbreak had hit, we organised a training camp in Jordan itself. All necessary medical clearances have been taken and the boxers can return to Patiala from 27 March.”" - Santiago Nieva, High-Performance Director, Boxing

“Our target was for training camps to be held in France, USA and Cuba, now with the travel ban things are a bit tentative. Even if we can’t go anywhere, our quality of boxers in India are good enough to train with,” said Nieva.

Tokyo bound middleweight boxer Ashish Kumar also confirmed the self-quarantine development.

"“I’m back in Himachal Pradesh in my hometown, I will take a call by the end of this month about when exactly to return to camp. Hopefully all this is cleared and we can attend the international camps.”" - Ashish Kumar to The QuintEquestrian

Fouaad Mirza is the first Indian to represent the country in equestrian at the Olympics since Imtiaz Anees at the 2000 Sydney Olympics.

2018 Asian Games silver medalist Fouaad Mirza ended India’s two-decade long drought of an Equestrian participant at the Olympics, since Imtiaz Anees’ appearance in Sydney. The 27-year-old is currently training in the small town of Ganderkesee in Germany with five horses and 2012 Olympic gold medalist Sandra Auffarth.

However, after Germany restricted their borders on 15 March, Fouaad will not be able to travel to India anytime soon. Speaking from Oldenburg, he said, “We have stocked up on supplies for the next one month as there is panic about the virus here and rightly so.”

"“I was supposed to participate in my final one-horse qualifier in Poland, but that has been cancelled. For now, we will be in isolation at the ranch here and hope the outbreak stops soon.”" - Fouaad Mirza to The Quint

The Federatione Equestre Internationale (FEI) has suspended all international competitions till 10 April. Mirza’s national level events were also cancelled after the German Equestrian Federation (GEF) postponed all ranking tournaments till the end of April.

Hockey

Both the Indian Men’s and Women’s hockey team are stationed at SAI South Centre with the premises under lock down.

The Indian Women’s Hockey team were forced to postpone their one-week scheduled leave after SAI Bengaluru authorities recalled them from the Kempegowda airport. Coach Sjoerd Marijne also cancelled his trip back to native Holland midway to the airport, not willing to risk a potential quarantine on return.

Both the Men’s and Women’s are stationed at SAI South Centre with the premises under lock down. SAI has sanitised the entire venue and are continuing with the training camp as scheduled. India’s Pro League encounter against Germany on 25 April is yet to be postponed.

"“SAI authorities have taken all necessary precautions and we are closely monitoring player temperatures for any issues. We are training as per our Tokyo schedule.”" - India’s Chief Coach Graham Reid to The QuintShooting

Mairaj Ahmed Khan (right and Angad Singh Bajwa (left) pulled out of ISSF Shotgun World Cup in Cyprus from 4 March

The International Shooting Sport Federation (ISSF) has postponed the New Delhi World Cup leg from 15 March 2020 to 5 May 2020.

The National Rifle Association of India (NRAI) also decided to pull out from the ISSF Shotgun World Cup in Cyprus from 4 March, which involved skeet shooters Mairaj Ahmed Khan and Angad Singh Bajwa. This was their only preparatory international tournament before the Tokyo 2020 Olympics.

The Rifle and Pistol shooters are currently training at the Karni Singh range, which has been closed for outsiders. The NRAI is conducting trials to select the Tokyo 2020 Olympics squad, and has sanitised the venue as per government recommendations.

" “The NRAI held a seminar educating the shooters at the venue about hygiene and precautionary measures like frequent hand wash and use of mask. They are also living in relative social isolation in their hotels, limiting contact with outsiders.”" - Indian national Rifle Coach Deepak Kumar to The Quint

The Tokyo Olympic range test has also been officially cancelled.

Wrestling

Two-time Olympic medallist India’s Sushil Kumar is yet to qualify for the Tokyo 2020 Olympics.

The Asian Olympic qualification tournament scheduled between 27-29 March in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan has been cancelled, landing a major blow to the chances of several Indian Tokyo aspirants.

All Olympic qualified athletes were attending a national camp at the SAI campus in Sonepat. However, the camp has been suspended till 31 April as per government recommendation with the grapplers returning to their local training centres.

Both Ravi Dahiya (57 kg FS) and Deepak Punia (86 kg FS) have returned to Chhatrasal stadium to train under Dronacharya awardee Satpal Singh. However, as per the Delhi government advisory the stadium will be shut till 31 March, but Olympic-bound wrestlers can train in the premises.

"“Our camp to Russia has been cancelled, but we will be sticking to our training regime here. SAI is currently in the process of confirming the camp closure in Sonepat, but we are continuing our practice as per schedule with a Tokyo medal in mind.”" - Ravi Dahiya to The Quint

India’s only female representative so far, Vinesh Phogat has been asked to return from her training stint in Norway and remain on self-quarantine for 14 days.

(Suromitro Basu is a journalist and Olympics sports expert, who has worked with publications in India and South East Asia. He has covered multiple Olympic, Asian and Commonwealth Games editions.)

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