The Swimming Federation of India seems to have reconsidered the stance of its president, RN Jayaprakash, of conducting Nationals in November or December.
In a virtual press conference to announce their strategic roadmap for swimming in India for "success at 2022 Asiad and Commonwealth Games besides the 2024 and 2028 Olympics", Virendra Nanavati, the Executive Director for SFI, said, "We have to wait for four to five months and see if it is possible to have competitions. It would not be possible to conduct national competitions if all states do not allow reopening of pools."
Jayaprakash had told The New Indian Express in an interview in September that they were hopeful of conducting the Nationals in November or December. The SFI President was reacting to news that the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) had allowed swimming pools to be reopened from 15 October for the first time since March, when Indian government enforced an unprecedented nation-wide lockdown due to the coronavirus pandemic.
SFI General Secretary Monal Chokshi, however, pointed out that not all states would be re-opening swimming pools from Thursday.
"Formal guidelines have been issued by states like Gujarat and Karnataka for re-opening pools. Other states were waiting for SOPs to come out [which came out past week]. Some states have not agreed to start pools. Maharashtra came out with their guidelines in September where they said swimming pools will remain closed. It might take them a week or so more than 15 October to partially reopen pools. Kerala and Tamil Nadu are some other states which have said they will not start pools. There's only so much we can do if a state says they won't open pools because they're facing a high caseload."
Nanavati, meanwhile, said that pools in North India usually close after October. "On 15th, I don't think a lot of swimming pools will be able to open."
The SFI has said that should swimmers from states like Maharashtra, Tamil Nadu and Kerala want to shift to another state to train, they would help facilitate that move.
"We're talking to state units and state governments to allow, if not all, one or two centres to open, to create their internal bubbles where swimmers can safely train. This is a work-in-progress. There are no absolute answers. There are a lot of decisions involved from state governments after seeing the dynamics of COVID-19 numbers in their states," said Chokshi, even as he admitted that only senior national swimmers could practically consider shifting base to train, but even that would have logistical issues considering they would have to move their coaches there as well.
On Tuesday, SFI announced a strategic partnership with Australia-based Moregold Performance Consultants, which has done consulting work with national sports federations like USA Swimming, British Swimming, Swimming South Africa, and US Olympic Committee in the past. As the 'knowledge and implementation partner' of SFI, Moregold, headed by Wayne Goldsmith, has a five-year mandate.
Besides Goldsmith's Moregold, SFI also said they would be working with American sports scientist Dr Genadijus Sokolovas and Italy's Stefano Nurra.
The strategic roadmap for swimming that the SFI announced on Tuesday will look at several factors: creating a national talent pool; setting up a national database for swimmers, coaches and academies; having an education and certification pathway for Indian coaches; having a talent-scouting structure.
SFI did not have a structured coaching certification system so far, with swimming coaches learning through the diploma course at NIS Patiala (whose syllabus has not been overhauled for three decades, as per SFI), or getting ASCA certification (ASCA Level I and II certificates can be earned by simply attending a two-day workshop and appearing for an open-book test, while a Level III certificate requires a three-day workshop and test).
The SFI said that as per their revamped talent scouting structure, they would divide the nation into six zones and set up a zonal talent identification task force, with designated coaches from every zone acting as talent scouts.
The federation also plans to introduce a swimming league, and organise invitational meets for junior swimmers with certain Asian national federations to help them gain exposure. For swimmers under 12 years old, the emphasis will be on technique rather than speed, while sub-junior swimmers will be asked to focus on all strokes rather than specialise in one so early in their career.
While all of this is planning for the future in the lead up to CWG and Asiad in 2022 or the Paris and LA Games, the federation's immediate concern is helping swimmers who are eyeing qualification to the now-deferred Tokyo Olympics, which are to be held in July next year.
Swimmers like , Srihari Nataraj and Kushagra Rawat, all of whom have achieved B qualifying marks for Tokyo 2020, have been training at Dubai's Aqua Nation Swimming Academy for nearly two months now.
"There's a wonderful phrase in sport that nothing guarantees success," said Wayne Goldsmith, on being asked what could be done in the coming months to help Indian swimmers, who have already touched the B qualifying mark, to shave off time and touch the A mark. "But what we're trying to do is increase the likelihood of success."
Goldsmith said that in the coming months swimmers could focus on skills, such as diving, starts, turns, and finding fractions of seconds in those skills. "The second part is mental and emotional. In our sport, we get overly obsessed by what we can see and what we can measure. Not all that can be counted counts."