The effect of COVID-19 on sports academies and coaches

With the COVID-19 pandemic bringing the world to a halt, women’s sports academies and the coaches are doing their bit to keep the morale high.

“There is not much mingling with the outsiders. Also, we don’t generally allow mobiles there, so our girls are virtually cut off from social media and hence from many things that could make them anxious,” explained P. T. Usha, who produced former Asian 800m champion Tintu Luka and talented quartermiler Jisna Mathew.   -  K. Ragesh

The lockdown at the Usha School of Athletics began a fortnight before India went for a total closure. When P. T. Usha, the academy’s chief coach, realised that the coronavirus was something that could spread fast, she quickly initiated steps to protect her trainees there.

“Since our athletes don’t go home frequently, parents normally visit them every week. But when we heard news about how travellers could carry the virus everywhere, we told parents to stop visiting their daughters at our academy. That was some 15 days before the national lockdown began,” said Usha, the founder of the girls-only academy at Kinalur in Kozhikode.

“And normally children go home for a week during the summer vacation. This time, we did not allow that. There could be relatives from the Gulf who could be visiting them, or from other states, we did not want to take any risk.”

The academy, surrounded by mountains, is virtually a closed world.

READ| COVID-19 has affected every athlete across sports

“There is not much mingling with the outsiders. Also, we don’t generally allow mobiles there, so our girls are virtually cut off from social media and hence from many things that could make them anxious,” explained Usha, who produced former Asian 800m champion Tintu Luka and talented quarter-miler Jisna Mathew.

“And once the lockdown started, the girls began cleaning their rooms themselves. Also, since it’s a closed campus, our children were not idle, there was some activity going on even. It’s not like a centre where there are too many people involved where you cannot control things, it’s almost like playing at home there. We had close to 50 per cent of our normal activity during the lockdown.

“Because, if we didn’t have any activity, it would have affected our athletes mentally. We told them that competitions would resume in October or November, they believe that and prepare accordingly. If they think that there would be no competition, their morale will be down... only if they run and win, will they feel motivated.”

Still, Usha has had many sleepless nights.

“Like everybody, the lockdown has affected us too. Since everyone appears to have financial problems, I’d worry where we would get funds from, where I’d get sponsors. I would be thinking about the targets for the trainees. Even if I don’t talk about it openly, it will be running in my mind.

“There have been days when I could not sleep during night or day. I keep thinking when this virus would go away so that life will be normal all over again.”

Waiting for normalcy to return

Some 350km away from Usha’s centre, Anju Bobby George is also waiting for normal times to return in Bengaluru. Twelve of her 13 trainees went home just before the lockdown, and she is racking her brain about when and how she’d bring them back.

“The safety of our athletes is our first concern. My athletes come from different parts of the country, from TN, AP, UP, MP, Punjab and Bengal. Since they are all very young girls, we have to bring them when everything is safe everywhere. I think they will be back only by November because the virus is all over the place now.”

She is not in a hurry.

“Being very young, they have enough time on their hands. They are not in a hurry because the goal for them is the 2024 Olympics (in Paris),” said the 2003 Worlds long jump bronze medallist, the managing director of the Anju Bobby High Performance Centre where her husband Robert ‘Bobby’ George is the chief coach.

“But this would have been an ideal time to learn proper techniques, we would have got a lot of time now. For example, for Shaili (Singh), this would have been a nice time to try out her technique before she goes for a major competition. So that is lost. In fact, it’s as if one year has been taken away from your life, for everybody.”

Anju feels the long break means that her trainees, all jumpers like her, would have to virtually start from scratch especially the ones who have not finished a year at her centre. She also made it clear that they will not be taking part in any competition this year.

READ| All you need to know about sports during COVID-19

“We don’t want to take any risk. We are not worried about the virus. Being sportspersons, we may recover from it in about 14 days. We are more worried about the medicines they could be giving for the virus, not whether they could be on WADA’s prohibited list — anyway, we have to take them – but medicines like hydroxychloroquine. We hear that it could create problems for the heart and probably other internal organs too,” said Anju.

“If something of that sort happens, we cannot even think of doing top-level sport. It may not be a problem for normal life but it could damage one’s sports life severely.

“Even if they lose a year, we believe in our training and we can definitely bring them back. Only, it may take some more time. Because our performances are not the result of ‘external factors.’

The lockdown has also delayed work on laying a synthetic track at Anju’s own centre.

Indian boxer Mary Kom poses with children during a promotional event. Due to the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, there is no action at the Mary Kom Regional Boxing Foundation at Imphal in Manipur. Being a contact sport, it will be challenging for the boxers to resume training amid the contagious disease.   -  PTI

 

No action at Mary Kom Academy in Imphal

Despite the sports ministry’s clearance to resume training in academies and stadiums, there is still no action at the Mary Kom Regional Boxing Foundation at Imphal in Manipur.

Due to the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, the academy stopped operations from March 16. And being a contact sport, it will be challenging for the boxers to resume training amid the contagious disease.

A decision on reopening the facility, with strict guidelines, is likely to be taken in the second week of June. “Right now, there are new positive cases coming up from people who are returnees [from Delhi, Pune and other states]. We can think about a restart in two-weeks time,” said Jimmy Leivon, secretary of the academy.

Until May 31, there were only 71 cases in the northeastern state but the shortage of food and essential supplies have created panic among the people. “That’s a concern. There is a problem with ration supply, so we are not thinking of functioning now,” he said, adding, “Since the cases are only among the returnees, there should not be much of a problem later.”

The trainee boxers are confined to their hostel rooms. “The coaches are training them over video calls,” added Leivon.

For Shaili Singh, who is training at the Anju Bobby High Performance Centre where Anju’s husband Robert ‘Bobby’ George is the chief coach, it would have been a nice time to try out her technique before she goes for a major competition.   -  Special Arrangement

 

She kicks

It is no different with Aditi Chauhan, the Indian national football team goalkeeper.

“Everything on ground has come to a halt. We also have to learn, adapt and improvise now. We are coming up with an online programme. Hopefully, by mid-June, She Kicks (my football academy in Delhi) will have a module ready. That’s where all my energy is going at the moment. We can’t sit back and wait for this to pass because, at least for the women’s game, if everyone starts doing that then all the work we’ve put in all these years will go to waste. We need to keep moving forward.

“Football in general is taking a hit. For parents, whether they have a son or a daughter, sending their children to academies is going to be a big decision. We are affected a bit more because we are not on the same level as the men’s game. To inspire more girls to take to the sport is going to be hard, as it has been. So, we need to find other ways. The All India Football Federation (AIFF) is keeping the conversation going through webinars, where we’re banding the community together. Ideas are being tried and tested.