‘People are dying, life comes first’

Written by Mihir Vasavda
| New Delhi |

Updated: March 28, 2020 2:35:22 am

PV Sindhu has been in self-quarantine after returning from Birmingham earlier this month. (File Photo)

For as long as she can remember, PV Sindhu has started her days even before the sun has risen. Training and playing in big arenas; jumping, leaping, smashing, sweating. Never a still moment. And never alone. The last few days have been quite the opposite for the 24-year-old: confined to her room, waking up ‘really late’, not even touching her playing kit, following news and on a streaming spree.

How else do you beat the boredom? On some days, she amuses herself by watching various ‘challenges’ sportspersons are taking up on social media.

The other night, she watched the Hollywood thriller Contagion and like many who have rediscovered the 2011 hit in the last few weeks, Sindhu, too, has been blown away by the eerie resemblance the movie bears to the Coronavirus pandemic.

READ | Vinesh Phogat, Neeraj Chopra on what the postponement of Tokyo Olympics means

“There has never been a period like this,” Sindhu, who has been in self-quarantine after returning from Birmingham earlier this month, says. “It’s been 12 days now that I have not left my room.” In isolation. But not cut off.

With all the time she has, Sindhu has been closely following the outbreak of Covid-19. She rattles off the timelines and trajectories of the virus spread in different countries, the measures taken by countries and statements made by some leaders. Sport, in these trying times, seems rather trivial to her.

“It’s good that they are cancelling all tournaments. Even the Olympics,” Sindhu says.

Majority of Indian athletes have reacted with mixed emotions to the International Olympic Committee’s decision of pushing forward the Tokyo Games until next year. For Sindhu, a silver medalist from the Rio Games, postponing the Olympics was the most obvious choice. Not just because athletes’ training plans have been disrupted because of the global lockdown but Sindhu says this isn’t the time to play purely because of the gravity of the current situation.

“Every week, every day, the numbers have been increasing,” Sindhu, who has donated Rs 5 lakh each to the Andhra Pradesh and Telangana relief funds, says. “People have been telling me, ‘this was your dream… now the Olympics are postponed.’ But life comes first, then the Olympics.”

The words ‘life comes first’ play on a loop during the conversation. As on Friday, the virus has claimed more than 25,000 lives and had spread in 200 nations. “So I don’t think it was a bad decision to postpone (the Olympics) because we don’t have any other choice. People are dying out there. Life comes first.”

READ | Calendar Congestion: The logistical nightmare that could be 2021

For athletes, the deferment ended a period of uncertainty but has thrown up other challenges. In an interview with the Associated Press, swimming legend Michael Phelps spoke about the mental health issues athletes may have to face because of the delay. Wrestler Vinesh Phogat, an Asian Games gold medalist, underlined the possible difficulties in recalibrating the training programmes so as to peak at the right time.

Tricky time

Athletes ‘work backwards from the goal period’ to peak, according to high-performance sports consultant Ross Tucker. Since the rescheduled dates have not yet been announced (the IOC is reportedly considered to hold it in spring or summer next year), it may get tricky to design training programmes so the uncertainty, in a way, continues to persist. But Tucker – who has worked with World Rugby, the US and British Olympic associations, among others – says most athletes will prefer a ‘full-year postponement’.

“It’s easier to absorb that into the normal annual cycle of training where you have your rest period, a pre-season, the build, the competition, the peak. Plus, there are better chances to compete along the way,” Tucker says in an email.

Sindhu concurs. It will force her to alter her short-term plans and readjust workloads but other than that, the ‘delay is not a big thing’ for her. “Of course, I was preparing for the Olympics in a way that I peak at a certain point. At All-England, I felt I was getting back into the groove as well,” she says. “But I am not affected by the postponement. We anyway have tournaments continuously.”

Badminton is different from a few other Olympic sports, like boxing, wrestling or even hockey, in the sense that it has a very active calendar and the shuttlers compete in a high-level tournament virtually every second week. That, Sindhu says, will help them in realigning with the new Olympics dates seamlessly.

“For us, we have tournaments continuously and in every tournament, we need to work hard. It’s not like we work hard just for some tournaments and take a few others easy. So it’s not a question of reset for me, but it’s a daily process,” she says.

Given that the sporting calendar looks disrupted for the foreseeable future, no one knows when the ‘process’ will begin again. “If they are postponing events, there is some serious issue. We need to understand and accept that,” she says. “We are all on a pause right now.”

Until play begins, there might be more late mornings and binge-watching evenings for the shuttle star.

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