Way forward after COVID-19: Looking at Hockey 5s on a full pitch

Hockey India insists it is better to be prepared for the future than try and play catch-up later on.

Indian women hockey team’s goalkeepers Savita Punia (left) and Rajani Etimarpu during a training session. “Using Google Docs for wellness data submission and Google Forms for training load submissions have become mandatory to update what we had done during the day and this would further be discussed through video call,” explained Savita.   -  K. Murali Kumar

The full import of COVID-19 hit India only by the end of March this year. Less than a month later, April 11 to be precise, Hockey India sought approval for its training and operational guidelines in these uncertain times.

The federation was among the first sporting bodies in the country to formalise its plans and compile a way ahead in terms of precautions and preventions during training and competition. Its 20-page Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) document includes guidelines not just for the elite national teams, but also domestic events across the country with clearly defined roles for the organisers, state associations and the players.

READ| Hockey India: Mushtaque Ahmed resigns as president, Nigombam to replace him

These include mandatory use of the Aarogya Setu app by all players, officials and staff at any event and minimal use of common areas to avoid non-essential interaction between players. While international hockey would depend on the FIH and other member nations agreeing to the conditional restart of competitions and resumption of international travel, there is no confirmation on when domestic competitions might resume either. The national championships across genders and age groups have all been pushed to 2021 and the Bengaluru Super Division Championships, scheduled from August 17, remains uncertain.

READ| India to resume FIH Pro League against Argentina in April, 2021

As and when tournaments do resume, however, it would be a different normal for everyone involved. Hockey India doesn’t expect things to go back to pre-COVID norms for at least another 18 months, making the current model a long-term prospect. Some of the essentials for resumption of activity includes state-specific risk assessment and adherence to respective state-government advisories, educating all stakeholders about social distancing, individual and group hygiene, kitting up before reaching the venue to minimise social interaction, facility to treat and isolate anyone symptomatic, temperature checks and review of status on Aarogya Setu before allowing turf access.

Hockey India has also suggested that “ideally to start with organisers should look at Hockey 5s on a full pitch”, “ideally arrange seats so that participants and spectators are at least one metre apart”, “spectator seating should be arranged in a way that there’s one-metre distance between each spectator” and “open windows and doors whenever possible to make sure the venue is well ventilated.”

READ| Indian hockey players getting back to business, slow and steady

Most of these are precautionary, since any competition at the moment remains highly unlikely. But Hockey India insists it is better to be prepared for the future than try and play catch-up later on. “It is pertinent to produce comprehensive protocols dictating sanitary and operational conditions ensuring that the health of those involved in any hockey events is protected and the integrity of public policy is preserved. It’s a matter again of looking at the risks and deciding if we can make them low enough to be acceptable.

The new normal: “Even though our support staff is based in the same campus, we use video calls for individual meetings where we discuss our nutrition intake, match analysis, etc., since a physical meeting is not possible anymore,” says Harmanpreet Singh.   -  K. Murali Kumar

 

“Although there is no published experiential data specific to planning and implementing a mass gathering post the COVID-19 outbreak, arrangements must be in place to ensure regular communication between organisers and local public health authorities. This SOP and any subsequent guidelines issued from time to time provide recommendations to Member Units to help them try and keep the future training and events virus free as much as possible,” the federation makes it clear.

What is certain is that the elite national campers would have to live with them even during training. When the men’s and women’s probables finally dispersed for a month-long break recently, after being stuck at the SAI Centre in Bengaluru for three and four months respectively, they did so with strict instructions on maintaining the protocols, including quarantine.

READ| Everyone’s focus is on the Olympics, says men’s hockey team coach Graham Reid

“The players have been specifically briefed that they need to adhere to government guidelines during this break and continue to follow social distancing. We are very proud of how our players have handled this situation over the last 3-4 months and have stayed strong as a unit. It is important they continue to act responsibly during this break,” HI president Mushtaque Ahmad said. The hockey players got on to the turf for the first time since lockdown on June 1. When they reassemble on July 19, they are likely to follow the same protocol in Bengaluru as their homes — a strict quarantine in the hostels — before resuming training. Already the players have included using sanitisers during every break and sticking to their own water bottles and gear in their routines. The norms of social distancing and training in small groups over a large area would be followed in the near future as well.

READ| The effect of COVID-19 on sports academies and coaches

The teams are also likely to continue with social distancing and manage their daily briefings through individual and team video chats. “Using Google Docs for wellness data submission and Google Forms for training load submissions have become mandatory to update what we had done during the day and this would further be discussed through video call,” explained goalkeeper Savita Punia. “Even though our support staff is based in the same campus, we use video calls for individual meetings where we discuss our nutrition intake, match analysis etc since a physical meeting is not possible anymore,” added Harmanpreet Singh.

With the Olympics scheduled for next year but no clarity on resumption of international competitions, the players understand they need to work at an individual level to stay focused. “Over the next few months, each of us have a plan and a target to improve on our individual game,” captain Manpreet Singh added.