Top athletes of the country - including the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) chief Sourav Ganguly, Indian cricket team captain Virat Kohli and former skipper Sachin Tendulkar interacted with Prime Minister Narendra Modi via video conference amid a nationwide lockdown to combat the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.
49 sports personalities, across disciplines joined the video conference to share their thoughts and ideas regarding how to combat the situation.
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With the COVID-19 bringing the country to a standstill and halting all sporting activities, the Prime Minister appealed to the athletes to spread awareness in such times of crisis.
“It was a one-hour programme, where the Prime Minister addressed the athletes and asked them to spread awareness. He advised them to follow the advisory and maintain social distancing,” Olympian Anju Bobby George, who attended the conference call, told Sportstar .
While Modi addressed the athletes for nearly half an hour, a few of the players like Ganguly and 2016 Olympic silver medallist P.V. Sindhu also shared their thoughts.
“He told the athletes to stay strong and positive. He even drew reference of the Olympic postponement and the fact that IPL has also been suspended (till April 15). These are tough times, so he asked us to spread awareness and stay bonded as a community,” Anju said.
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Another top athlete, who attended the meeting told this publication that the idea was to ensure that the people stay indoors and don’t panic.
“As athletes, we have the privilege that people listen to us. So, it is our duty to help them in such times,” he said.
“As sports personalities, we have already been doing our bit. Only donating will not solve the issue. We need to step up and motivate the people and ask them not to panic. That was the whole message,” the athlete said.
Olympian shooter, Gagan Narang, was also part of the conference. "The Prime Minister told us to create awareness among the people in the times of crisis. It is important to practice social distancing and be safe," the ace shooter said.
Shooter Abhishek Verma said the Prime Minister spoke to 8-10 people due to the lack of time and asked for their suggestions regarding what can be done. “He told us the importance of social distancing,” Verma said.
“He also told us that we should maintain social distancing and contribute our bit to the nation. He spoke about his video message earlier today and also asked us to thank the doctors, media professionals for their help in such times,” Verma added.
“He even advised us to stay fit and healthy. Together, we can make India corona-free. It was an honour interacting with him,” the shooter said.
Former India football captain, Bhaichung Bhutia, too connected from Siliguri. Even though his internet connectivity was slow, Bhutia was happy to see the Prime Minister interacting with the sporting icons.
“I was on and off due to poor network, but the other athletes shared their thoughts and ideas. It is important to be safe at this time,” the former India captain said.
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Chess ace Viswanathan Anand, who is currently stuck in Germany, too, had issues connecting on video.
“There seemed to be an issue for which I couldn't connect. However, it is a great initiative to help people as they are mentally dealing with the lockdown. It’s important to stay positive while staying safe,” Anand said.
India’s top para-badminton player, Pramod Bhagat, said: “He (Modi) generally talked to all of us about the pandemic and the precautions that need to be taken. He asked us to create more videos to spread awareness. He also asked us for suggestions.”
Mirabai Chanu, who also attended the meeting and spoke to the Prime Minister, took to Twitter to share her thoughts.
“Thank you Hon'ble PM @narendramodi sir for interacting with us today. Have shared with him how i am following lockdown while staying in my room, working on fitness & enjoying hobbies. I urge everyone to kindly follow lockdown seriously & lets unite in this fight against COVID-19,” Chanu wrote.
Star paddler Achanta Sharath Kamal, another invitee, added: "Our sports minister Kiren Rijiju later connected with those who couldn't personally interact with the Prime Minister. He asked us to stay safe and enquired what we were doing to keep ourselves fit during this downtime. The suggestions that we put forward will be communicated to the PM."
No discussion on IPL
Contrary to speculations, there was no word on the fate of the Indian Premier League, even though the Prime Minister did mention about the suspension of the tournament (till at least April 15). Sources in the know of things have confirmed that Ganguly did share his thoughts on the pandemic, but no discussions were held on the tournament’s future.
Sources have also told this publication that even though Mahendra Singh Dhoni and K.L. Rahul were scheduled to join the conversation, they could not, due to technical reasons.