India athletes eye return to training under restrictive pandemic protocols – other sports

Avishek Roy

Hindustan Times, New Delhi

Representational image.
Representational image.(File)



India’s elite athletes are eyeing a return to training after more than a month of staying at home, but under restrictive new pandemic protocols. Boxers in masks, and shooters using a feedback software attached to their guns will be the new normal, if the national sports federations (NSFs) and the Sports Authority of India’s (SAI) return-to-training plan comes to fruition.

The NSFs said they are in the process of formulating the protocols, in what will be a phased resumption, with athletes who have qualified for the Tokyo Olympics and a select few who are expected to qualify to begin training soon.

A sports ministry official said that they have written to the MHA seeking clearance, with a proposal to resume training for athletes who are already in isolation at SAI’s Bengaluru and Patiala centres before May 3.

“If we can restart fine, otherwise we will wait till May 3, till the lockdown (is lifted),” the official said. “In the two institutions where athletes are there, we are not allowing any outsiders to come in and any insider to go out.”

Both the men’s and women’s hockey teams are at the Bengaluru centre, and more than fifty track and field athletes, including javelin thrower Neeraj Chopra, are in Patiala.

The Indian Olympic Association held a video conference with NSFs on Wednesday and backed the idea to restart training, and also came to the consensus that international sports is unlikely to resume this year.

New protocols

Plans for other camps, for which no dates have been set, include situating them in cities where the impact of the pandemic is less. Athletes will be given individual rooms.

The boxing federation said that the strictest measures will be in place for contact sports, and that the five men and four women boxers who have qualified for the Olympics will be asked to return to training, along with the select few hoping to qualify in four more weight categories, and a limited number of sparring partners.

The camp can take place either in Patiala or at the Rohtak SAI centre.

“The boxers will have to go through a medical test before the camp begins,” said a federation official.

To start with the focus will be on strength and conditioning.

“All precautions will be taken with regards to social distancing. There will only be a few boxers inside the training hall at different corners. Sparring will not start immediately and whenever it starts male boxers can also use head guards along with masks,” he added.

The Wrestling Federation of India have listed 39 wrestlers – three wrestlers each in five weight categories in men’s and women’s freestyle and in three categories in Greco-Roman to restart training. The venue for men’s team will remain Sonepat, in the National Capital Region, but women’s training can be shifted out from Lucknow which has seen a rise in the number of coronavirus cases. Unlike boxing, wrestlers are likely to begin camp only if sparring is allowed.

“Wrestling is a 100 per cent contact sport even during training. For us sparring is an integral part of training and if that’s not happening, it’s better that top wrestlers stay at home where most have some set up for doing weight training,” said WFI assistant secretary Vinod Tomar.

Most top wrestlers, like Bajrang Punia, Vinesh Phogat and Sakshi Malik, have extensive training facilities at home, or have access to akhadas close to home.

“We will talk to them whenever we get orders to resume training and decide on what they are comfortable with,” Tomar said.

Elite weightlifters are already at the National Institute of Sports in Patiala as well, but have not been training since the lockdown began.

“There are three girls and six boys at Patiala centre currently,” weightlifting coach Vijay Sharma said. The weightlifting training hall is big and there are 16 platforms. If we give a gap of one platform there will be sufficient space between two lifters.”

Shooting: Equip home ranges

India are hoping to send its largest ever shooting contingent to the Tokyo Olympics after winning a record number of quotas, but assembling a shooting camp will be hard, since the athletes come from many different states and locations.

The coaches have instead picked a core group of three top shooters from each category, and are planning to upgrade ranges close to the shooters and providing them with equipment such as Scatt trainers – optical sensors that, when attached to a gun, give detailed visual feedback on the shooter’s aiming process via a software.

“Currently we are trying to figure out what training facilities they have at home or close to their home which can be upgraded,” said a national team coach. From Scatt trainers, coaches can analyse the data.”

As a long term strategy, the federation is also identifying a few ranges at different states where the Olympic squad can set up a training base in case there is another lockdown. “The shooters have to train together closer to the Tokyo Olympics and if there is another lockdown – it could happen that in one particular state or other – we need to be ready with a plan so that the entire squad can be quickly shifted.”

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