Shuttler Prannoy recalls 'bubble struggle' in Thailand

International badminton restarted after a long pandemic-induced break and players had to stay in a bio-bubble while competing in the Asian leg championship in Bangkok.

H.S. Prannoy

File picture of H.S. Prannoy.   -  REUTERS

The "nightmare" that he endured while being confined in a bio-bubble in Bangkok made ace Indian shuttler HS Prannoy realise the importance of addressing the mental health concerns that sportspersons are facing in the post COVID-19 world.

International badminton restarted after a long pandemic-induced break and players had to stay in a bio-bubble while competing in the Asian leg championship in Bangkok earlier this month.

"It was totally new (situation) for us in Thailand, it was first time we went to a bio-bubble. We didn't know anything what was going to happen," Prannoy said during a webinar.

"For two weeks, we couldn't go out of our (respective) rooms. We were only allowed to go for practice, go to main hall and (walk up to the) bus. We were not allowed to walk outside the stadium." Prannoy admitted that hard quarantine at times could be so lonely that one feels that he can no longer go out in the sun.

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"After 3-4 days you start feeling like that mentally. You feel that you can't go out in the sun. You just sit in the room for 22 hours, since we were only training for 2 hours. We cannot meet your teammates. It was a nightmare and after six days, it was taking its toll on me. I was not able to understand how to handle it as I faced for first time." Prannoy and Saina Nehwal -- both of whom had tested positive for COVID-19 last month -- had tested positive again for the infection on the eve of the Yonex Thailand Open and were forced to withdraw.

The duo were later cleared to participate after their "antibody IgG" was found positive.

"It was one of the most taxing days because from morning till night, we were in the hospital. There was no communication, we were told we have to be in quarantine for 10 days. Our entries were withdrawn but at the end of the day they said we were free to go," he said.

"Imagine, I am coming 9:30 at night from hospital, next day I had a match and then in the morning, I am coming to know that the match was shifted to night.

"In such junctures, you need someone to share all these things, because as a professional player, you just know how to play and don't know how to handle all these situations." The 28-year-old from Kerala said a psychologist could have helped him to deal with it better and hoped there will be a structure in place to assist the players in the times to come.

"I wish I had someone to talk to, so that I could be calmer before the match and focus on things, because there is social media, tons of messages are coming because you are in bio bubble, all these things are big distractions. I think at this point psychologists come into play," he said.

"I hope in next five years, we have a structure in place where all the players get the services of a sports psychologist because you never know someone who is struggling with a ranking of 30-40 might just go to the top 10, because of certain changes in their schedule." A former top 10 player, Prannoy said going through the whole experience in the last couple of months was the "toughest" journey of his international career.

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"The last one month has been roller coaster for me, being tested positive, then coming out of it and participating in world tour events is one of the toughest journeys that I had in my career," he said.

"Things were very unclear because the day when I tested positive, the next 14 days I was alone in Hyderabad ... I never thought it will have such impact mentally." After being in mandatory isolation, Prannoy hit the court but his body was not the same.

"Before COVID, we thought we will just have to isolate for 14 days and then can comeback and train. But once I completed the period, I came back to training, I was feeling very low and the body couldn't take the load of the virus. The next few days, it was very slow progress towards full fitness," he said.

"I was making sure that I had to back off if any of the pain comeback. During the COVID time I had a lot of cough, there was weird pain in my ribs but unfortunately doctors had no answers, even in Thailand it bothered me during the matches. Whenever I was breathing heavily, my ribs were hurting." Prannoy said he still has not yet achieved his full fitness.

"Post that quarantine, I understood, how much it affected my entire body. Once I went to Thailand, I thought I will be totally good enough to play the tournaments but I was wrong, I am still in the process of attaining full fitness." Prannoy said he did some online sessions with European players during the two weeks in Thailand to keep himself fit.

"I knew I had a match to play after eight days, the mind frame shouldn't be negative ... I took a lot of time to jot down my to-do lists to make sure what I do the next day, that kind of helped mentally.

"I was seeing other European players doing online sessions on Instagram so I joined them and it helped." Prannoy said he used the time in the last few months to learn about stock market investments.

"I didn't want anything related to the game because it keeps you disturbed at times, because you want to play but you can't and on top of it if you think about the game."