Sports Minister Kiren Rijiju said on Sunday that the training of elite athletes is likely to begin at the Sports Authority of India (SAI) centres in Patiala and Bengaluru by the “end of this month”. He also spoke about the ministry working on a draft to set the ‘standards’ for a phased opening of training. Rijiju though doesn’t see the senior national camps for other athletes opening before August or September and competition of any form taking place in the “immediate future”.
“We had a discussion and initially I thought from 3rd May we will start allowing practice at NIS Patiala and Bengaluru SAI centre where men’s and women’s hockey teams are there. We have some of the important centres of excellence across the country and we have to go phase-wise,” Rijiju said while addressing a Federation of Indian Chamber of Commerce and Industry (FICCI) webinar on Corona and Sports – The Champions Speak.
“I wanted them to start from today; seeing the Olympics we (thought) will relax partially. But this could not happen because the National Disaster Management Act, which was invoked to put the lockdown, doesn’t permit legally yet. Sporting events are not under the necessary list — not of essential requirements so it doesn’t get the relaxation.
“What I am thinking is that in the next two weeks time we will be ready. Rani Rampal (women’s hockey team skipper) and other players, I can assure that they can expect some kind of relaxation from the ministry. We will allow them to practice–they can expect by the end of this month,” Rijiju said with Rampal and chief badminton coach Pullela Gopichand present among the guests in the live video conference.
The athletes will have to wait some more time before any decision is taken on competitions.
“Let us not expect any kind of competitive matches in the immediate future– that is not possible now. Let us understand that health is the national priority right now and healthy safety cannot be compromised, so keeping that in mind we will start relaxing one by one,” he said.
Rijiju said the ministry would be looking to resume training of Tokyo Olympics-bound athletes and those who are preparing for qualification first.
“First of all we will allow practice at SAI centres in Patiala and Bengaluru. Tomorrow, or day after, I am going to draft the way forward standards. We will identify those players and teams who have qualified for the Olympics. Secondly those who are going to figure in Olympics qualification matches, we will allow them to practice.
“Thirdly, our senior national camps–not talking about the junior one–we won’t be able to open national camps for those who have not qualified for Olympics soon. May be it will go beyond August or September because we don’t know exactly what is going to happen. We know this coronavirus is going to stay for some time,” said Rijiju.
More than 60 athletes–including javelin thrower Neeraj Chopra and members of the national 4x400m relay team–are the National Institute of Sports, Patiala, since the start of the first of three lockdowns on March 24. The national men’s and women’s hockey teams are at the SAI Bengaluru centre apart from track and field athletes, including Asian Games 1500m champion Jinson Johnson and national race walker KT Irfan, who has qualified for the Tokyo Olympics.
The minister said he was sensitive to the athletes’ concerns that not training will have a negative impact on their entire approach. “It is good to hear from Rani Rampal that they are following a fitness regime and are engaged in awareness activity for fighting coronavirus. I know if they do not train for three four months, it will have a negative impact in their approach.”