Sports complexes and stadia were on Sunday permitted to reopen but declared out of bounds for spectators in the fourth phase of the coronavirus-forced lockdown, possibly clearing the path for only the resumption of halted training camps.
“Sports complexes and stadia will be permitted to open, however, spectators won’t be allowed,” read one of the Ministry of Home Affairs guidelines to be followed during the lockdown, which was due to end on Monday but has been extended till May 31.
India has recorded over 90,000 COVID-19 cases so far with nearly 3000 deaths.
In the latest guidelines, sport continues to be listed alongside the functions, gatherings and large congregations which are not allowed as of now.
“Resumption of training seems to be the only implication of this guideline,” said a Sports Ministry source.
The only big-ticket event that was to happen in India at this time was the Indian Premier League, which was postponed indefinitely in April due to the health crisis.
Despite the relaxation announced on Sunday, the IPL is unlikely to go ahead even behind closed doors anytime soon as travel restrictions — both domestic and international — continue to remain in place.
The lockdown originally came into effect in mid-March and the Tokyo Olympics-bound elite athletes, who are based at Sports Authority of India (SAI) complexes in Patiala and Bengaluru, have been demanding resumption of training for the past couple of weeks.
The Olympics has been postponed to 2021 owing to the deadly pandemic.
Last week, Sports Minister Kiren Rijiju held a series of video conferences to take the athletes’ view on the matter, including interactions with weightlifters, hockey players and track-and-field practitioners.
On May 3, he declared that the ministry was aiming for a phase-wise resumption of national camps by the end of this month for at least the Olympic-bound athletes. He had stated that the ministry was waiting for the MHA guidelines.
The Indian Olympic Association has also demanded a resumption of camps and in a letter to Rijiju on Sunday, IOA President Narinder Batra also requested for a one-time financial help of approximately Rs 220 crore for various sports governing bodies.
Batra claimed that sponsors won’t be coming forward to support Olympic disciplines for at least one year and “hand-holding” by the government was the only way to deal with the current cash crunch.
The SAI, on the other hand, has formulated the Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) for athletes and staff to be implemented on resumption of training.
The document is yet to be approved by the sports ministry and the home ministry.
Elimination of low-ventilation change rooms, disinfection of training equipment after every use, a bar on sparring for now, and usage of gyms in shifts are some of the measures that the SAI has proposed.
It has also suggested making the Arogya Setu app mandatory for all athletes and staff, strict social distancing at training venues, use of PPE kits by medical practitioners on duty, and stringent supervision of athletes’ health to counter the threat posed by the deadly virus.