When Will Sports Return in India? Sports Bodies Deliberate on Post-covid Lockdown Plans

Sports bodies in India are drawing up plans to restart training as Ministry of Home Affairs relaxed coronavirus lockdown in the country and allowed sports complexes and stadia to open without spectators.

National Sports Federations (NSFs) deliberated ways to facilitate training of at least the Olympic-bound athletes with the lockdown has been extended till May 31.

"I'm happy to inform sportspersons and all concerned that sports activities will be conducted in sports complexes and stadia strictly in accordance with MHA guidelines and that of the States in which they are situated," Sports Minister Kiren Rijiju tweeted.

The Table Tennis Federation of India sought written consent from its top 16 players to join a training camp but the wary paddlers said they would prefer to wait a while.

Most players, including leading ones such as Sharath Kamal and G Sathiyan, said they were not comfortable travelling from their base in Chennai anytime soon amid the pandemic. Table Tennis camps are held at NIS Patiala, Sonepat and Kolkata.

"I can say that training can start for a minimum of 13 weight categories. In each category, two wrestlers can join the camp," Wrestling Federation of India's Assistant Secretary Vinod Tomar told PTI.

The wrestling camps are held in Patiala and Sonepat centres of the Sports Authority of India (SAI).

The shooting federation said it was already working on a resumption plan given that the sport is individual and ensuring social distancing won't be an issue.

"We shall firm up plans to resume athlete training and competitions accordingly soon," National Rifle Association of India Raninder Singh told PTI.

But with flights still not permitted and the Railways conducting only limited operations, the logistical problems have also come to the fore.

"How will the top athletes join camps? They are at home right now. Even some coaches have gone home," said a Boxing Federation of India official.

"The boxers who join back will also have to be tested and then quarantine as well. I think nothing can resume before the lockdown officially ends," he added.

The federation officials spent the day conducting online meetings with doctors attached with the elite boxers to chalk out the medical protocol. Nine Indian boxers have qualified for the Olympics and they are the ones likely to resume training first.

According to the proposed Standard Operating Procedure formulated by SAI, no sparring would be allowed for contact sports for the time being.

"That's a given," said the federation official.

Hockey India has sent its training plan to SAI for approval. The Olympic-bound men's and women's teams have been based at SAI's Bengaluru centre since mid-March, when the lockdown first came into force. They have talked about being home sick but have largely coped well.

Others like the weightlifting body are continuing to wait for fresh instructions from the sports ministry, which has been vigorously advocating a resumption of training for elite athletes by the end of this month.

Elimination of low-ventilation change rooms, disinfection of training equipment after every use, and usage of gyms in shifts are some of the measures that the SAI has proposed to counter the COVID-19 threat once training resumes.

It has also suggested making the Arogya Setu app mandatory for all athletes and staff, strict social distancing at training venues, use of PPE kits by medical practitioners on duty, and stringent supervision of athletes' health.

(With inputs from PTI)