The Home Ministry has given go-ahead to the re-opening of sports stadia without spectators. “Sports complexes and stadia will be permitted to open only for sports activities. However, spectators will not be allowed in these complexes,” the MHA advisory stated.
This would allow the elite athletes, many of who are stuck in their hostel rooms at various Sports Authority of India centres across the country, to resume their practice and workouts. The athletes have been restricted since mid-March when the nation went into lockdown mode.
Sportstar spoke to top players across disciplines to find out their views on resumption of outdoor training.
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Faiz Fazal (captain, Vidarbha/ India international): When I think about the future, I don’t find an answer to when cricket will resume again. Right now, it is very risky to step out and train. It’s a very dangerous phase and we should not be careless in our approach. Ultimately, human lives are very important and that’s the priority now. No matter how much protection you take, it may be difficult to tackle the virus. It is important to stay at home and build your immunity. We are having training sessions at home via Zoom app and will continue doing that for now.
Shreevats Goswami (Bengal/Sunrisers Hyderabad): Hopefully the situation post the monsoon will improve and we will reach a point where the players can go out and train. In this uncertain scenario, the scheduling of domestic season needs to be looked into as well. Some reports suggest IPL could be held in September-October, in which case the domestic season will be pushed back anyway. That said, there are too many variables at play, inter-state travelling being a major challenge. Sometimes, we play Ranji matches at these far-flung venues where ensuring norms of social distancing can be quite a task. Then there are concerns about hygiene, sanitising our hotels and kits. All these need to be taken into consideration.
Riyan Parag (Assam/Rajasthan Royals): Personally, I will let it settle down. We had a few cases in Guwahati recently, so I would like to stay indoors till it's all safe. Safety is the utmost concern. We live in a flat, and there is some space, so I can do some exercises and other training. At this point, it’s about how mentally tough you are.
Sarfaraz Khan (Mumbai/Kings XI Punjab): It feels good to know that stadiums are opening. The BCCI is our parent and whenever they announce that training or matches can start, we will gain motivation and do so. Cricket or any sport starting will be a positive sign. As of now, I am in my maternal home in the Chhatarpur village in Uttar Pradesh and I can't travel. There are agricultural fields here. I do one day of long-distance running, followed by a short-distance one, then agility and weight training with the help of my father.
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Michael Soosairaj (ATK FC) : I don't feel it is the right time to train. There are so many people suffering and there will be a constant sense of fear at the back of our minds and we won't be able to train peacefully. Since it is anyway our off-season, I feel it is better to begin once the cases reduce.
Edwin Vanspaul (Chennaiyin FC): It's a welcome directive. It's been over two months since anyone had any kind of activity. So this will be useful for both individual sports and team sports athletes, but only if it's done with the right precautions and guidelines. I am in the off-season now and training at a ground near my home. In the morning, I am working out between 6-7 A.M. I am doing ball exercises and power workout.
Anirudh Thapa (Chennaiyin FC): It is a welcome gesture. I am sure all the necessary precautions are being taken by the government and management at different sports complexes. Keeping that in mind, I am open to the idea of going out to train, of course, maintaining all the guidelines for personal safety. I think the authorities are leaving no stone unturned to contain the virus and create a safe environment for the citizens. Most of my off-season training includes Small-sided games with my friends back home. Ideally, I'd like to go trekking and cycling once the lockdown is over.
Nivetha R, coach (TN women's football team): The MHA has made this provision for athletes heading to international competitions, like the Olympics for example. It is directed more at individual athletes. This isn't suitable for team sports and hence has created some confusion. Many think that stadiums are being opened so things will go back to older routines. That isn't the case though. We can handle fitness at home because some kind of minimum training equipment will be there but it won't help them give their 100 per cent. So this call is to give them an environment to get back to full potential. We are staying put as we don't have directives yet. With the rate of infection still high, it will take some time and a lot of planning to get back out.
Bajrang Punia: I welcome the Government's decision. Olympics are coming up and this decision has been taken keeping that in mind. As athletes, coaches and volunteers, we have a collective responsibility to be safe and responsible in public. We will know what kind of precautions and arrangements the government has made only when we get there and see it for ourselves.
Ashish Kumar: Staying at home and training was difficulty because facilities and equipment aren't as good. The training camp idea and opening up facilities for us is a good idea but only if we follow the rules put in place for our safety. Our preparation at home is never going to be as good as the one in a camp and so I think it's a good idea.
Prajnesh Gunneswaran (India's No.2 tennis player): The moment any of the tennis courts open I will start practice, probably by the end of the week or next week for sure. The tennis court is pretty open and there aren't going to be many people on the court and it should be fine. I will try my best not to touch my face while playing and use a sweatband instead. There's only so much I can do to prevent it. When I go to the supermarket, I don't think it's less risky than going to a tennis court.
I'm guessing in another 2-3 weeks they will open up everything. Once that happens we would've still been at this much risk or more if not. After a point. I guess we just have to hope we don't get it and try to be safe and go forward and resume regular activities as much as possible.
Ayhika Mukherjee: All of us, of course, are going through a very rough phase. I wouldn't choose to go out to practise in the current situation. I'd rather stay home, follow the government guidelines and continue working on my mental and physical fitness.
Archana Kamath: There is some amount of fear, but I think that's normal. Having said that, just like all the other athletes, I am also itching to get back to playing and training. But assessing the situation is equally important. In the end, whatever the seniors and the federation decide, I will go by that. They know much better.
Sharath Kamal: It would be good to get back but at the same time, it's still too early. Especially in Chennai, the cases are on a rise every day. That thought is preceding that of practice. As of now, I still haven't decided when I will go to the stadium and practise. I am apprehensive about stepping out which is why I haven't even tried to venture outdoors. Things will be clearer after the rules and regulations are announced.
Sanil Shetty: We got an email from the federation whereby they have enlisted eight names. The federation (TTFI) has asked for our thoughts on the training camp, which may start from the end of May. I feel it's too early to start. While travelling, I would constantly have the fear of falling ill or contracting the virus. Most players have managed to arrange for training from home for the next two months. If there's no vaccine, there's always a chance [falling sick], irrespective of the precautions you take.
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Amit Panghal: The focus will be more on the skill aspect as individually we were training on fitness during the lockdown. Also, the confidence will be less owing to the nature of the pandemic but I am sure we will find our way back. I think the camp will start after May 31 either at SAI Rohtak or SAI Sonipat. We are awaiting official confirmation.
Jinson Johnson: We haven't received any official statement as of now and we will only start once we get the orders. I will start slowly and won't push too hard as acclimatisation will be the key here. Moreover, social distancing is a must and masks have already become the norm. It will be interesting how we train outdoors. We will follow all the guidelines strictly.
Muhammed Anas: Fitness-wise it won't matter much as we are already doing our training. The only difference is that we will be able to train under guidelines of our coach Galina Bukharina and will be able to run on track which is very important once proper training starts. We need to be on the track. At NIS Patiala, we are in a safe environment as they are following all rules to protect us. We are maintaining our fitness in the given space available inside the hostel campus and are looking forward to training on the track.
M.R. Poovamma: We are already training in a lawn and the only difference is there will be a coach which will be good. Having said that we will stick to the guidelines and maintain social distancing. Except for the exchange of the baton, I don't feel there will be a major issue. There is time for the Olympic Qualifiers and also for the Asian Championships. So we will train individually and take a measured approach.
Ekta Bhyan: We are yet to receive an SOP regarding training protocol for parathletes. So we're going to wait. We are dependent on assistance and we need arrangements to be made if we're allowed to head out to stadiums to train. My dependence on my assisted device - my wheelchair, puts me and others like me at higher risk because keeping surfaces clean and virus free, especially when we're dependent on others, is hard. Our dependence also makes it hard to maintain social distancing properly. Add to that, those with spinal injuries come with impaired respiratory systems and that makes us more vulnerable to this virus. I hope these are considered when a protocol is devised for us.
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Divyansh Singh Panwar: To be honest, I was waiting for this decision for quite some days now, so that I could practise properly. Although we had a makeshift range set up at coach Deepak (Kumar Dubey) sir's apartment, I must say that shooting at an international range, where all the big competitions are organised, gives you a different kind of energy and confidence. No, I am not hesitant to train during the pandemic. If international events begin shortly, I will surely take part, given the fact that we have already missed some major tournaments because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Manu Bhaker: For now, I am not looking to take part in any outdoor training sessions. I am already training at my makeshift range at home, so there's no point venturing out. However, if international events resume, I will surely be participating in those. That said, if possible, till the whole COVID graph flattens out, I would like to keep away from any type of camps.
Vishesh Bhriguvanshi: I would like to go back to training only when I am assured that it’s safe to do so. I would go every day if I have a secure place. It’s difficult to go into a public space now being unsure. I would like to get some training done because it’s been two months without basketball. Whatever the government is saying regarding guidelines is difficult for basketball since it comes under B-category sports. They said only 8-10 players can practise and only 2-3 players can play together. It will be difficult for coaches to manage as well considering our sport is a team game. When I came to Dehradun, I didn’t know lockdown was going to happen and I didn’t even have a treadmill at home.
[ Reporting by: Shayan Acharya, Wriddhaayan Bhattacharyya, V.S. Aravind, Santadeep Dey, Shivansh Gupta, Aashin Prasad, Shyam Vasudevan, Lavanya Lakshmi Narayanan and Ayan Acharya]