Homesick India players leave SAI, Bengaluru for a month’s break

Most of the members of the national men’s and women’s teams returned to their homes on Friday after being granted a break.

Both the men’s and women’s teams were stuck at the SAI South Centre in Bengaluru since March 25.   -  K. MURALI KUMAR

More than 100 days since they reported at the national camp, the Indian men’s and women’s hockey players are finally headed home for a month-long break, starting Friday.

The 56-odd probables had been stuck at the Sports Authority of India’s Bengaluru Centre due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and resultant lockdown. While the men had been at the camp since March 2 following their Pro League games against Australia, Belgium and Holland in Bhubaneswar, the women had been cooped up since February 16, making it a four-month-long stay.

The decision was taken by Hockey India late on Wednesday evening following consultations with SAI officials, coaches and support staff and players themselves. It is understood that while most players preferred leaving on Thursday, ticketing issues and working out travel formalities took time.

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The players, both men and women, would be leaving in batches with the first group leaving on Friday morning and most expected to be gone by Sunday evening. They would, however, have to strictly follow quarantine rules – home or institutional -- depending on their respective states. Karnataka native SV Sunil, though, went home Thursday itself. Goalkeeper Suraj Karkera, who decided against travelling because of the severe pandemic situation in Mumbai, and the women’s duo of Sushila Chanu (Manipur) and Lalremsiami (Mizoram) however would continue to stay in Bengaluru.

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The players have been asked to report back on July 19 which is again likely to be followed by a 14-day quarantine period. “There wasn’t any problem at SAI, honestly, in terms of facilities or diet or anything. But the days of three or four-month-long camps are long gone. Most players are used to short, high-intensity camps instead and the fact that for almost two of those, there was no on-ground training made it more difficult. It was more a mental and emotional thing, staying away from families,” one player en route to the airport said. The players had finally got permission to resume basic on-ground training, in small groups, from June 10.

While women’s Dutch coaches Sjoerd Marijne and Janneke Schopman too left for home early Friday morning, the men’s staff including coach Graham Reid and Chris Ciriello is uncertain and staying put at SAI for the moment.

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