Updated: March 15, 2020 1:48:31 pm
Chaos and fear rule the sporting world that’s in the shadow of the Covid-19 virus. With no news yet of Olympics’ postponement or cancellation, athletes’ concerns range from preparation to well-being. Some of them are already across the world, trying to pinch vital qualification points but the pandemic threatens to unravel all plans. Here are some of the voices of doubts and powerlessness against the invisible enemy.
‘I’m shooting six days a week. But where is the competition?’
Mairaj Ahmad Khan – Shooting
If the Olympics were to be held now, despite the health risk that the Coronavirus poses, I would go and compete without even thinking about the consequences. It’s my life, it’s my dream and I can put my life on the line to win an Olympic medal.
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These days, when we train at the shooting range or talk among ourselves, there is some fear. We are all wondering, ‘what will happen if the Olympics are canceled?’ You want to focus on training, but at the back of your mind, this question does bother you. The government and the federation are helping you by giving financial help so you are concerned if all that money will go waste. After all, it is public money.
At the same time, you can’t stop training and find yourself in a situation where the Olympics go ahead as scheduled and you aren’t prepared. The biggest problem, from an athlete’s point of view, is preparing for the Tokyo Games.
Before a big tournament like the Olympics, it is important for us to compete at a few events to check if our preparation is on the right track. There is no substitute for match practice. We have all the facilities here, the best of the equipment… everything, so that’s not an issue. I’m shooting six days a week right now.
But where is the competition? That’s where the problem is.
Every event has either been canceled or postponed — the World Cups in Nicosia (Cyprus) and Delhi, the Tokyo Test event; I was planning to compete in a tournament in Italy in May and June. But now everything is shut down in Italy so that, at the moment, looks a bit difficult too. So the lack of match practice is going to be a big problem. And to add to it, my coach Ennio Falco will not be able to come to India before April because of the visa restrictions. So till then, I am having video calls with him every day and we are working on my training.
From what I read and hear, the chances of the Olympics getting canceled do not seem very high at the moment. There are talks about the possibility of the Games getting postponed if the situation does not get under control. And there are suggestions for conducting the event without spectators. Personally, I don’t mind that.
My dream is to win an Olympic medal and ultimately, you will be called an Olympic champion; no one will bother or care to remember if it was closed doors.
‘Been travelling across the globe since I was 13. World in a lockdown feels strange’
Rani Rampal – Hockey
No hand-shakes, no sharing of water bottles and regularly wash hands. These are some of the things we have been following diligently at our training camp at the moment to make sure all of us remain healthy. Recently, in our team meeting, our coaches and doctors we were briefed about the dos and donts. We have been explained what the Coronavirus is and been told not to panic. But they have told us to take proper precautions. So we are following the advice given to us. Apart from that, we are trying not to think a lot about everything else that’s happening. Our focus is on training.
I have been travelling across the globe for competitions since I was 13-14 years old. So now, it does feel a little strange when the entire world is in a virtual lockdown to control this virus from spreading. But it’s a matter of a person’s well-being so it’s a good decision. As an athlete, everything we do in our day-to-day life is, in a way, keeping in mind the Olympics. So, the uncertainty around the Tokyo Games can put you off a bit. Right now, though, none of us know if the Olympics will happen or not; whether they will be postponed or not.
However, we cannot let that uncertainty affect us. As a team, we are concentrating on our training — maybe the virus will subside in a couple of months. In such a scenario, we can’t then say that we didn’t train well and make this an excuse. So we are training every day with the same intensity.
It’s not easy. But our coaches and some of the experienced players remind us this thing very day. If someone keeps on reminding you to not get distracted, then you automatically start focusing. And that’s the thing with us — the 25 players and coaching staff. We have very young players who will be competing at the Olympics for the first time. And like typical youngsters, they never take these things seriously – they are like, ‘naah, nothing will happen to us’. So their focus is firmly on training. Still, every day we keep telling each other to concentrate on training and not think about anything else. And off the field, we remind each other of taking care of basic hygiene.
‘It’s so hard to find motivation because you don’t know when is the next event’
Achanta Sharath Kamal – Table tennis
At the moment I’m at the Oman Open, so my family is paranoid. They didn’t want me to go, but I thought that the Olympic qualifiers are coming up, so I need some match practice and this is a good chance to improve my ranking. But with all the tension and stress, it was probably better to stay home.
This being an Olympic year, even without coronavirus it’s chaos, but now it’s just become catastrophic. The World Team Championships that were supposed to happen next week will now take place in June. With the Olympics in Japan, most of the tournaments this year are in Asia, so a lot of tournaments are cancelled or postponed. Peaking performance is going to be difficult because we don’t even know when the next tournament is. A week ago, I didn’t know what my training schedule should look like. Do I train as if tournaments are coming up and work on match play and sharpening strengths? Do I train as if it’s off-season and work on the building phase and weaknesses? It’s so hard to find motivation now because you don’t know when is the next event.
Before the 2016 Rio Olympics, there was the Zika virus scare. By then we already had vaccines. But in this case, there is no vaccine.
There is a lot of fear among players. On one hand, you need to catch up on the rankings and qualify. But it’s not just your health on the line. As an active sportsperson, it might not affect me as much, but I could be a carrier who can give it to my family, or anyone I come close to. I’ll feel terrible if that happened especially since there were so many people telling me not to go.
As players, we’re all following measures — wash hands, don’t shake hands, don’t get too close… But you’re all friends, you’d like to spend some time, but you’re nervous because you don’t know who might be carrying the virus.
After this event I have to go home, I have no choice. I probably will have to self-quarantine myself because that’s the directive given by the sports ministry. I’m fine with that because I do understand that I can pass this onto other people. But at the same time, there is the Olympic qualifiers in April. I don’t know if they’re going to postpone it or not. If it stays, then I’ll be quarantining myself, with no practice, no fitness. How do I cope with that? Everything is a big question mark.
‘Right now, this thing is beyond anyone’s control’
Rohan Bopanna – Tennis
My physio and I landed in Doha last Sunday around 11:30 PM, and had to catch a flight to Los Angeles at eight in the morning. We had a transit hotel, but the (immigration authorities) changed the rule for 13-14 countries, and India was one of them, so we were not allowed to leave the airport. An hour before the flight we got to know that the Indian Wells had been cancelled. It was, in a way, lucky that I got to know before boarding a 16-hour flight. Then we changed our ticket to India, which was in another 12 hours. We ended up staying at the airport because we weren’t allowed to leave.
For any person, you have to follow and abide by those rules and regulations of the country. Whether it is taking a yellow fever injection or whatever it may be, irrelevant whether you’re playing a sport or you’re just going as a visitor, it’s the same for everyone.
Similarly, on the tour, it’s not just me looking to qualify for the Olympics, it’s the entire tennis circuit. At the end of the day, health is the priority and the ATP has taken the right decision to suspend the tour. The World Health Organization (WHO) has said that (COVID-19) is a pandemic, so I think it’s fair for everyone to be in their respective countries and take precautionary measures and see how it plays out.
Yes, it is an Olympic year, but there are bigger things, you know, clearly health being the biggest priority for everyone. And of course, this is a very difficult situation. As an athlete, you know sometimes you get injured, but you can plan for it and prepare for it. But this is something completely different.
But I’m looking at the positive, being here at home. My wife and I had a daughter nine months ago, so I’m really happy to be here and spend time with her. If I could tell myself that in the middle of the season, I’d be there at home for six weeks to watch my daughter grow, I would take it any day. And at the age of 40, it’s nice to get a few weeks off. I can be with my family, I can go to my academy to train and work, and also, I can work on my coffee.
Frustration only comes if it’s something in your control and you cannot do it. Right now, this thing is beyond anyone’s control. Everybody wants to compete at the Olympics and represent their country. But even for the Olympics, the organisers need to take precautionary measures. But it’s the same for every athlete. We’re all going to have to wait and see how it pans out in the next few weeks.
‘I will definitely pack my bags for Tokyo if the event happens, whether risky or not’
Shivpal Singh – Javelin
This is a very tricky situation to be in. You draw out your training plan according to the competitions you decide to take part in. We spend months if not years on preparing for one competition and if you are told at the last moment that an event has been called off, you are left stranded. All your plans go awry and the disappointment is another thing you have to deal with.
Who could have foreseen the current situation? We are training here in South Africa and the coach and support staff keep us updated on happenings. I know in the back of the mind the Olympics could be canceled. Us athletes are taught to brush off disappointments and move forward.
But this is not just another tournament. I come from a family of athletes but no one has ever qualified for the Olympics. If the Tokyo plan fails, we would have to move on to the next event. But at heart, I really pray and wish that the situation comes under control.
I will definitely pack my bags for Tokyo if the event happens, whether risky or not. It’s a dream for every athlete to be at the biggest sporting stage in the world. I’ts my desire to do well at the Games and untill then I won’t rest in peace.The rest is in God’s hands.
As told to Shivani Naik, Shahid Judge, Mihir Vasavda and Andrew Amsan
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