Rijiju assures training restart for homesick Indian hockey teams

The Olympic-bound Indian hockey teams have been confined to the SAI campus in Bengaluru since March due to the nation-wide coronavirus lockdown.

Indian forward S.V. Sunil during a training session at the Sports Authority of India (SAI) in Bengaluru (File Photo).   -  FILE PHOTO/K. MURALI KUMAR

Lack of training is an obvious concern but India’s hockey players are also feeling homesick and they made that known to Sports Minister Kiren Rijiju, who assured them of a “controlled” resumption of practice soon in an online interaction on Thursday.

Rijiju reiterated that on-field training will resume once the Standard Operating Procedure is formulated by a six-member committee of the Sports Authority of India (SAI).

The minister gave a patient hearing to the players and took note of feedback during the online meeting which was attended by 34 men and 24 women hockey players.

“The SOP is being drawn up and now we have the inputs from coaches and hockey players. We will resume practice soon but in a controlled manner,” Rijiju said in a press release later.

Both the Indian men and women’s hockey teams have been at the Sports Authority of India’s (SAI) South Centre in Bengaluru since the start of the coronavirus-forced lockdown on March 25.

“I assure that we will extend all support to get our athletes back on the ground to train, but we must be careful. We cannot afford to risk the health of even one athlete because that will jeopardise the entire training plan.

“We must accept that in the post COVID era, sports will not be played in the same way and we will have to adjust to the changes and move forward,” he added.

The Indian men’s and women’s hockey teams told the minister that resumption of on-field training in small groups as soon as possible will give them an upper-hand over other top nations as they gear up for Olympics next year.

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“The players stated that they were feeling homesick but they very well understand that they are safe here. They just want to resume training to divert unwanted thoughts that creep in their minds,” a source told PTI.

In the virtual meeting, which also featured Sports Ministry and Sports Authority of India (SAI) officials, the players and coaches requested for early resumption of training in a group of four or five.

“If we are able to start training on basic skills and specialised skills in small batches and work on other techniques like penalty corners, it will help the teams to make a start towards Olympic preparations,” suggeste India captain Manpreet Singh.

Women’s team skipper Rani Rampal said fitness wise they are in good shape but they want to get back on the field to build stamina and remain focussed on the Olympics.

“We are safer here than we would be even at home. I feel we can start training while following protocols of health and social distancing,” she said.

Former skipper and goalkeeper of the men’s team PR Sreejesh added: “It is important for us to be in top mental shape and if we start training it can help us refresh our minds and handle homesickness.

“Since there will be no events in the next few months, staying focussed on the game will be tough unless we start to train.”

Chief coaches of the men’s and women’s hockey teams, Graham Reid and Sjoerd Marine, and High Performance Director David John were also present.

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The meeting was attended by sports secretary Ravi Mital, SAI director general Sandip Pradhan, Indian Olympic Association president Narinder Batra, Hockey India president Md Mushtaque Ahmad and other senior officials.

“Out of the top 12 teams in the world only Holland and Belgium have restarted training. We have lost close to 2 months but if we can start training at the earliest we will be in an advantageous position.

“We haven’t lost much but now it’s time to begin training,” a member of the Indian hockey team management was quoted by a source as having told Rijiju during the meeting.

The source said the coaching staff emphasised on how Indian hockey will be a gainer if training is resumed at the earliest after following all safety protocols.

“The training can be started in a group of 4 or 5 maintaining social distancing norms. The focus of the training will be on basic and individual skills besides shooting and penalty corner practice drills.”

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