‘It can be challenging but constant communication is key’, says IIS CEO Rushdee Warley on resumption of training under new guidelines

The world of sports has certainly taken a beating in its fight against the COVID-19, with matches and competitions being suspended or cancelled. The resumption of  major football leagues in Europe might indicate that the situation is improving, however, sports may not return fully at least for some more months.

In India, the Sports Authority of India (SAI) under the sports ministry has drawn up Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) for the start of sporting activities in the country. These SOPs have to be followed at every SAI centres and private sports academies.

At the JSW’s Inspire Institute of Sport (IIS), a private high performance centre in Vijaynagar, Karnataka, the challenges include minimising the risk of infections but also ensuring the athletes don’t miss out on crucial aspects of training. IIS CEO Rushdee Warley says it is this fine balance that the institute will now strive hard to maintain.

“We have been in this situation now since last couple of months. A lot of (sports ministry’s) SOPs with regard to social distancing and all is what we have already been practising anyway. We have a capacity of 200-300 people in our cafeteria and now they’re coming in groups only. We are sanitizing our gyms before and after the use. We are focussing on the outdoor training as far as possible and also training with the dummies. We have our academic team who were conducting online classes to athletes who were here and outside during this time,” Rushdee Warley told Firstpost.

For an institute which holds more 100 junior athletes, taking precautions becomes vital. According to Warley, IIS has been doing it since mid of March, when the COVID-19 cases in India started showing the upwards trend.

“Prior to the first lockdown, when we started seeing rise in cases, what we decided to do was to close off the environment. The external vendors who were coming into the environment, like the maintenance and cleaning people, we asked them to stop coming to minimise the risk. Athletes were expected to clean their own room. At the beginning, we also stopped our horticulture team so the athletes were also looking after the garden,” Warley said.

SAI’s guidelines prohibit sparring in contact sports and at IIS, there is a special focus on boxing, judo and wrestling. It can become tough for athletes and the coaches to adjust to the new methods but the key here, according to Warley, is communication and understanding of the situation.

“We have been very honest and open about the pandemic situation with our athletes. We have explained to them about the challenges. It’s very important for them to be educated on the topic. We had a team of doctors who had explained to them very clearly about the implications of COVID-19. Yes, it is very challenging for them. I think the biggest challenge for them is the uncertainty around competitions and games. We have been speaking to them all along. We have provided counselling sessions where our sports psychologists have spoken to them.

“The key to all this is the constant communication so that the athletes are aware of what is going on,” Warley said.

There could be a major shift in the way sports academies will function if the coronavirus situation persists in the world, but for now, Warley is not entertaining the idea since there’s not much clarity on the topic.

“It’s really, really difficult to say because we don’t know what the situation is with vaccine and stuff like that. We have to be cautious, we have to find a way. We have been very fortunate not to have a case in our institute. But we all know how fast it can change. We have to find a way to work with what we have right now. We should have a system in place where we are vigilant about hygiene and reporting symptoms at an early stage when moving back towards more comprehensive testing programs.”

Apart from following the usual norms, Warley is also looking at the option of testing the athletes if it’s possible and viable.

“If it’s viable, yes absolutely we would want to do the testing. Quarantine is one of the methods to minimise risk but the most definitive method is testing. But from the literature I have been reading, the testing should be done 6-7 days after the arrival of the athlete. If an athlete caught the virus in an airport or while travelling, the viral load may not be sufficient to get a positive test on the day of the arrival. In a closed environment like academies, we have to try to minimise the risk of infections.”

Apart from dealing with the COVID-19 circumstances, athletes will now have to adjust with the fact that the Tokyo Olympics have been postponed to 2021. The decision did not have much of an impact in the institute because for a lot of athletes, the main target was Paris Olympics in 2024.

“Fact of the matter is that everybody, all over the world, it is the same. For some people, it might be very challenging because another year in a particular sport might not be beneficial. For the youngsters, it is one extra year to train. As simple as that. There has not been a negative reaction to it. Majority of the athletes at IIS are focussed on Paris 2024. Of course you got Bajrang (Punia) and Neeraj (Chopra) but there are not here all the time. For the younger ones, the trajectory is towards the Paris 2024.”

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