Sports: The natural remedy against a virus

Prior to the pandemic, for the past few years, there had been a steady and happy trend in the rise of women’s sport. Will the pandemic curtail this trend?

Starting sporting activity is a great way to take the fear head-on and bring back a much-needed sense of normalcy.   -  AP

Jaan hai to jahaan hai” (If there is life, there is our world) was the war cry of our Prime Minister to tackle a seemingly dangerous virus as a severe lockdown was enforced on March 23. Three weeks later, it was “jaan hai aur jahaan bhi” (with life, there is also our world). Now, of course, it is somewhere in-between as the unlocking process starts. On the one hand there is the urgent need to kickstart our economy, and on the other is the continuing stoking of fear of the coronavirus despite an extremely low fatality rate.

Millions have lost their livelihoods and they will be severely affected for years to come. In all this, where does sport feature in the priorities of the nation?

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As sport has got more entwined with entertainment, the number of people associated with this industry will be many times more than the number of sportspersons themselves. So, when we gauge how COVID-19 has affected sport, it is much more than just athletes who need to be considered. Millions of non-athletes associated with the industry will face troubling times. Coming out of it will be the real challenge now. But can the damage be undone in the short term?

Wimbledon 2019 winner Simona Halep (left) and runner-up Serena Williams. At the highest levels of sport and for well-established women’s events, there will be no change.   -  AFP

 

World Athletics (formerly the International Amateur Athletic Federation, or IAAF) has already announced its calendar of events, some of which are going to begin soon. Other sporting disciplines have also taken steps to restart. The challenge for pro athletes will be to regain lost training time and manage their mental states to be ready for competition. Without clarity on what the new standard operating procedures will be — and I suspect there will be varying procedures across the world — athletes will need to adapt and not wait for conditions that will fall within their comfort zone. Like it or not, safety measures will be in place for a long time to come and we all need to accept them as part and parcel of the new normal.

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Prior to the pandemic, for the past few years, there had been a steady and happy trend in the rise of women’s sport. There was an equalisation of sorts that was seen across sporting disciplines. Tennis was seeing a push towards equal prize money. We saw the spurt in women’s cricket and the marketing muscle that was being expended to promote the various championships. In fact, the Women’s Twenty20 World Cup in Australia saw record spectators at the stadiums and the coverage and excitement were almost on par with similar men’s events.

Will the pandemic curtail this trend? At the highest levels of sport and for well-established women’s events, there will be no change. The Wimbledons of the world as well as multi-sporting events such as the Olympics will not see any negative impact. But for team sports such as cricket, football, hockey, et cetera, the pandemic will arrest growth in the short term. They will lag in recovery to the men simply because limited money will chase the most profitable opportunities. But I do not foresee permanent damage, and even these will recover once the economies of the world start chugging along in the next two to three years.

India opener Shafali Verma in action during the T20 World Cup match against New Zealand on February 27. The tournament in Australia saw record spectators at the stadiums and the coverage and excitement were almost on par with similar men’s events.   -  PTI

 

Academies where athletes train will face an uphill task. For many academies, survival alone will be a challenge as most depend on outside funding to manage their operations. While some government funding will come in, it will not be enough. The private funding of academies, which has been on a dramatic rise over the last few years, will dry up as profits take a hit. I run an academy that is partly funded by a school I run on the same campus. Funding the balance will be the challenge as will be running our programme with any kind of efficiency. Several of my coaches are still stuck in their home towns, and given the uncertainty of travel between states, it will be a while before they come back.

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Sport is anything but virtual. And yet today, after about three months of forced home stay, we see people devising innovative ways to stay fit. From skipping challenges to “reaching the moon marathons,” virtual fitness has caught the imagination of people all over the world. The most intriguing video I came across is a session of dance and exercise for people quarantined in a centre.

But sport cannot remain virtual. And it should not. In fact, it is the perfect antidote — physically and psychologically — to the deleterious effects of the lockdown and the virus itself. The main defence against a virus is our immune system, which, honed over millions of years, has the innate capacity to tackle such physical intrusions. But immunity is compromised if the body is not looked after through exercise and the right diet. This is a great opportunity to establish sports in our schools as an integral part of our education system and on par with academics. Along with a sensible diet, it will build, from a young age, healthy bodies with a strong immune system capable of fighting such viruses with ease and without panic.

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The most worrisome outcome of this pandemic has been the deep-rooted fears that have been fuelled. And yet if one goes by the numbers across the world as well as in India, the pandemic is no worse than a severe influenza season. Getting infected is not the problem. We are infected with all sorts of viruses and bacteria, good and bad. There will be millions of us who are infected by COVID-19. Over 80 percent of us do not show any symptoms, and of the rest who do, very few end up being serious and of them only an extremely small percentage is fatal. The government and media need to address these fears through a sustained campaign about the actual potency of the virus.

Starting sporting activity is a great way to take the fear head-on and bring back a much-needed sense of normalcy. Already, around the world, sporting events have started, and we need to take a cue from them.

The author is a former athlete, Asian Games medallist and sports administrator.