Narinder Batra: Unusual and challenging times for sports

Narinder Batra addresses the impact of COVID-19 on Indian sports and his plans to tackle it as the leading sports administrator of the country.

IOA president Narinder Batra assured that athletes' well-being will be given priority.   -  GETTY IMAGES

Indian Olympic Association (IOA) president Narinder Kumar Batra sends assurances to the sports fraternity that its interest would be paramount as far as he is concerned and there was nothing to worry for the athletes, who now find themselves staring at an uncertain future on account of the COVID-19 lockdown.

Known to traverse the world 300 days a year to attend to duties related to International Olympic Committee (IOC) of which he is a member and the International Hockey Federation (FIH) which he heads, Batra finds himself forced to stay indoors. But he doesn’t complain. “I am liking it. It takes us back to good old days of calm and quiet environs.”

In this chat with Sportstar, Batra shares views on the future of sport in India and how he intends to tackle it as the leading sports administrator of the country.

Q. To begin with, would you say that this is the most challenging phase for sports?

A. This is something unusual that has happened. These are challenging times for sports and everything I should say, especially when the Olympics was just four months away. Everything will have to be restructured. These definitely are challenging times but you have to come out of it.

As the leading sports administrator of the country, what do you foresee. What will be the principle aim when things settle down?

You’ll have to go sport by sport. There are different parameters involved. We are in touch with all the (national) federations but it is just that you are planning based on assumptions that things get alright by July-August. The way things are going nothing is going to happen till July. All events have been cancelled till July. Assuming things will get alright by August-September we can plan accordingly. How to build up. When to peak? It is basically focusing on Olympics. And in the longer run also identify the younger lot with potential for the 2024 Olympics.

READ: Tokyo Olympics postponement an advantage for India's young athletes

At a personal level how have you been keeping in touch with the sports fraternity?

This WhatsApp is a good medium. We have made groups and been in touch with all the federations, athletes through the federations. Trying to make sure that everyone is doing well. The athletes and their families are in good state. We are trying as much as we can do. The local administration, state government, Sports Authority of India (SAI) are involved fully. Everyone is trying to make sure that things remain in good condition.

What kind of assurances would you give to sportsmen?

Based on my discussions with the administration and the government, I can assure them that things will be as per their requirements whenever it becomes normal. Whatever they want will be met with. We are in touch with everyone through the national sports federations.

How much will sports be hit in terms of lack of finances?

There will be fear until the vaccinations comes out (to tackle COVID-19). You will try to keep away from people. It may take a year from what we hear and read. I agree there will be problems. We have to be optimistic to get out of the current situation. You have to be mentally free of all the stress because it can affect the performances.

What about the financial security of sportsmen?

Cricket is one federation which is financially secure and can promise things but most federations in India would only be making a statement if they try to give assurances and not delivering at a later date. All our athletes are employed by the government or private organisations, so no salary cuts have been done. That’s one good assurance. Right now we are engaged in giving contributions to the Prime Minister’s Cares Fund which can help the society in general. If a situation comes where an athlete or group of athletes need help and we are required, be rest assured we won’t let anyone down.

READ: Sports ministry hatching a plot for success

Are you going to employ psychologists to help sportsmen stay focused and not invite needless mental stress?

SAI is handling this on a daily basis -- the training, psychological and physical. There is a daily routine programme. It is on YouTube. I am not in touch with many athletes except hockey. That’s the game I have come from. Most of our hockey players are in Bangalore – men and women both. They were at a camp there when the lockdown happened. They are in good spirits. The athletes are in Patiala and weightlifting in Kolkata. They are being kept busy through lessons from the federations.

What changes would sport see whenever things become normal?

We have to wait for the vaccination to come for the world to become normal. There have been disease outbreaks in the past too and we have overcome them. Not like the current one. I hope things return to normal. I request everyone to take care of their family, maintain social distancing. It is in everybody’s interest. That’s the least we can do for the nation to make sure this disease is eradicated from the world.

Total contributions made by IOA, NSFs, State Olympic Associations and non-members associations towards the PM Cares Fund: Rs 2.45 crore

Hockey India: Rs 1 crore

AIFF: Rs 25 lakh

Contributions made by athletes: P.V. Sindhu - Rs 10 lakh, Apurvi Chandela - Rs 3 lakh, Neeraj Chopra - Rs 2 lakh, Manu Bhaker - Rs 1 lakh, Hima Das - One-month salary

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