Hindustan Times, New Delhi
U. Vimal Kumar has not visited the Prakash Padukone Badminton Academy (PPBA) on the outskirts of Bengaluru since the lockdown began on March 24. His most promising trainee, world No 27 Lakshya Sen, 18, lives in an apartment near the academy with his father, who is also a coach at PPBA. Kumar is the director at the famed academy.
For more than 40 days now, the best Kumar has been able to do for his players is to hold online coaching sessions and encourage them to do fitness drills at home. Being a national selector, Kumar is also working with several of India’s top players in the same way. With the central government easing several restrictions in the third phase of lockdown, Kumar believes that elite athletes need to get back to proper training immediately.
“If they just sit idle at home, a lot of muscle wastage happens,” Kumar said. “My request is that professional sports should not be clubbed with general sports like in schools, summer camps and community sports, etc. Professional sport is different.”
Several countries have framed return-to-training guidelines for elite athletes, and Kumar thinks that the Australian Institute of Sport’s framework can become a model for other nations.
“They should make some provisions and allow at least the elite group to resume their training keeping in mind the social distancing norms and guidelines,” he said. “MHA (Ministry of Home Affairs) should identify the training centers where an elite group of sportsperson can train and then delegate the authority to respective state associations to monitor the guidelines and athletes.”
It has been more than five weeks since the restrictions have forced athletes to stay at home and train with whatever equipment they have at hand—these includes Olympians at Sports Authority of India centers across India who have not been allowed to use any of the facilities.
For someone who is not on social media, Kumar created an account on Twitter last week to voice his concern, requesting Sports Minister Kiren Rijiju to find a way to open training for elite athletes.
“Certain sports are very, very physical like swimming, badminton, boxing, wrestling, athletics, etc. They need a lot of physical conditioning,” he said. “In China, where it all started, the national training centers are open. They have quarantined themselves and are training. These are high-end athletes and if they are not doing strength training programs beyond two-three weeks the levels will come down.”
He feels online coaching and motivational talks can only help to a certain point.
“I am in touch with the top players and players of my academy,” Kumar said. “Motivational talks and psychology lessons can be discussed online but eventually, when they have to train the hard way on the field, you have to monitor them.”
The men’s and women’s hockey teams, for example, are at the Bengaluru SAI center, where they are not allowed to step out of their living quarters, even though the center itself is closed to all outsiders.
“They are healthy and not infected,” Kumar said, talking about the possibility of them returning to training. “They are responsible trainers and they will know how to manage. There should be no problem.”
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