COVID-19 lockdown leaves private academies in B'luru bleeding

With the lockdown now extended and strict social distancing norms in place, private sports academics are finding it hard to keep their heads above water.

The Padukone-Dravid Centre for Excellence and the Zeeshan Ali Tennis Academy are few of the many private establishments in the city under threat from the economic repercussions of the coronavirus lockdown.   -  SHREEDUTTA CHIDANANDA

The lockdown imposed owing to the coronavirus pandemic has had a devastating effect on the many private sports academies in the city.

These institutions - much like several other businesses in the world - are saddled with big unsustainable losses, and are struggling to keep their heads above water.

The Karnataka Institute of Cricket (KIOC), which counts Manish Pandey, K. Gowtham and several other notable names on its rolls, is bleeding. “We’re facing humungous financial losses,” says Irfan Sait, Director, KIOC.

“We have about 2,000 wards on our rolls. We were also supposed host 50 junior cricketers from Australia and England for a camp. That has been called off.”

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“While the income has dropped to zero, our expenses remain. We have to pay rent for our campus and salaries for our 180-odd staff members. We also have to run our hostel. We simply don’t have the resources to sustain beyond 2-3 months. The thought of cutting staff is dreadful; they are like family. I’m hopeful that the government will relax some lockdown rules, whereby we can at least conduct one-on-one sessions."

It has been a bitter pill to swallow for India’s Davis Cup coach Zeeshan Ali too. The Zeeshan Ali Tennis Academy on Sarjapur road has a residential programme and also rents out courts for pay-and-play activities. It has all come to a standstill.

“The loss is going to be 100% as there is not a single court that is operational,” Zeeshan says.

“Whenever catastrophe strikes, be it a recession, financial trouble in the family etc.., it's the extra-curricular activities that get affected first. Schools can even run online but that’s not an option for sport. And sports coaching is viable mostly for notable names. It is difficult for the small-time coaches, the markers and others.”

“I hope the government comes forward. The British Lawn Tennis Association has pledged 20 million pounds to revive sport in the UK. Our government is doing so much with Khelo India, university games and other initiatives. It will now be good time to help the sports industry.”

Former international badminton player Arvind Bhat, co-founder of Level Up Sports - Premier Badminton Academy, stated, “We incur a monthly expense of around ₹15 lakh, including rent, staff salary and so on, but our revenue has dropped to zero,” notes Bhat.

“We are in talks with our land owner and hoping to defer payment of rent by a few months. The best option would be to impose a total lockdown for another month or more. Only if we eliminate the virus threat completely can the academy run at full strength again.”

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Vivek Kumar, the Founder & Director of the Padukone-Dravid Centre for Sports Excellence, an umbrella organisation which houses a number of reputed academies, says he understands the quandary the individual academies are in. His sprawling campus on the outskirts of the city is home to the Prakash Padukone Badminton Academy and Dronacharya Awardee Nihar Ameen’s Dolphin Aquatics.

“We need to come to an understanding with them,” Kumar says. “Most of them are long-term contracts and it's a question of understanding each other’s pain. Also, even after the situation eases, I don’t see too many children coming and playing. Every parent is going to be cautious. The paradox is that they would also want their children to go out considering they have been locked in for so long. Much will depend on the social distancing norms the governments impose. We need to see how this plays out.”