Athletes who train at the Capital’s Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium received an important message on their WhatsApp group this morning. The message read: “The AQI is very poor today, wear your masks and avoid training if you feel uncomfortable”. But it wasn’t until the evening session — morning program has been cancelled for a while due to pollution — that the athletes realised the severity of the warning. Delhi recorded the worst air quality of the year on Thursday, a day after Diwali.
The PM 2.5 levels around the stadium were recorded around 196 µg/m3 — micrograms per cubic metre of air — (average in the last 24 hours till 8 pm), nearly three times the Indian standards (60 µg/m3) for permissible levels. The PM 10 levels were also high at 355.14 µg/m3 — any reading upto 100 µg/m3 is permissible. According to experts, these levels are enough to cause throat and respiratory issues and in severe cases heart complications.
The coaches at the stadium are wary of the health hazards but an upcoming zonal meet has left them with little choice but to continue training. An off day is something that they can’t afford. The intensity of the training has been reduced by several notches and endurance training has almost been abandoned.
Throat and chest pain
“The performance is naturally down because we have a set programme and when we have to tinker with it due to external factors, our wards get affected. Living in a gas chamber is something but we are currently training in a gas chamber. The effects are far more severe and we are really concerned. A lot of athletes have complained about throat and chest pain,” said coach Sandeep Sarkaria.
Coach Dinesh Rawat, who has trained promising athletes like Beant Singh, decided to send his wards to the gym and work on strength training instead of their regular track regime.
Most junior athletes have arrived on Thursday after taking part in the Nationals in Ranchi, but they were in a for a rude shock when they reached the stadium. “I am an 800m runner and during practice, I have to do at least 10 kilometres of light running. I have just completed four rounds ( 4×400) right now and my chest is hurting and I feel as if something’s stuck in my throat. I have two more rounds to go before I take a break but I think, I can’t go any further. I’m going to ask my coach for an early leave today,” said a panting Nitin Tyagi who added that in normal circumstances he could complete six rounds effortlessly.
Athletes like Nitin are under severe threat of developing health complications in prevailing conditions. Doctor SK Chhabra, a pulmonologist with over three decades of experience, said it is completely unadvisable to take up any sort of physically rigorous activities in the Capital right now.
“Walking in a green-cover area is fine, but running and training in areas especially like JLN, which is near the main road, isn’t a good idea. When you train the air intake is seven times than normal and in the process, you will inhale pollutants which can cause breathing issues. And in severe cases, where the person has a medical history, heart-related complications can occur,” Chhabra said.
Nitin wasn’t the only athlete complaining about unfavourable training conditions. Sprinter Pooja, who was also asked to do only light-intensity workouts, said she felt nauseous after taking only a few laps around the track.
“It’s so scary. We are facing great difficulty training in these conditions. I almost threw up while training today so I am going to go easy. We have been suggested to use a mask but it’s very uncomfortable and restricts breathing. Doing high-intensity workouts while wearing a mask isn’t practical,” Pooja said.
The athletics program at Thyagaraj Stadium has already been called off for a week and those athletes who don’t have any major competitions the coming months have been exempted from training at JLN. The attendance also has come down dramatically since the last few weeks.
“We have 2,400 students registered here and you can see only 300 kids at the stadium today. Delhi’s pollution is a huge pain but ‘kya karen humari toh majburi hai’ (We really don’t have a choice,” said another coach.