Unlike Bundesliga, Indian Sports Can’t Be in a Hurry to Return

A look at why, unlike the Bundesliga, Indian sports leagues should not be in a hurry to return.

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Sports Specials
4 min read
A look at why, unlike the Bundesliga, Indian sports leagues should not be in a hurry to return.
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You don't even have to strain your ears to hear calls for early resumption of sporting competition in India. With each passing day, some one or the other is expressing an eagerness to see live sport returning to our lives. What is more, the example of the German Football League, Bundesliga, which has already resumed behind closed doors is advanced to buttress the argument.

There is no doubt that all of us are missing live action from the world of sport, but the questions that have to be asked are very simple:

  • Is our being entertained more important than the health of India's young sportsperson?
  • Do we really want to watch sport with the social distancing norms that are in place?
  • Is this the right time to redefine how sport showcases itself in our country?

The impact of the virus on the Indian economy is such that sport has slipped from the priority list again. Deep down in my heart, I believe that India has gone back to the times where roti, kapda and makaan were the most important facets of life. It will be a while before the entertainment aspect of sport as an industry can resurface in India.

Major Planning Behind Bundesliga’s Return

There is no point aping the European models of resumption of sports competitions. Even a mere look at the document produced by the German Football League, Bundesliga, will be enough to indicate the kind of thought process that created it. Sadly, in India, we do not have even a semblance of such a document that lists every aspect that can help minimise risk.

The only ones canvassing for competitions to resume quickly – besides the dark world of bookies and punters – could be the supporters of sports broadcasters. With no live sport to show, it is natural that sponsorship revenues will have dwindled. It also means that sports bodies which bank on broadcast revenue are another lot that will be eager for the resumption of competition.

It is also important to note that no National Sports Federation or organising committee has come up with a comprehensive document outlining the precautions to be taken for the conduct of a sporting event.

Their immediate focus has been on resuming training in the first place and ensuring that the risk of player injury is minimised.

In many ways, it makes sense that such a plan is followed primarily because a hasty return to competitive sport can lead to player injuries. The basic fitness of athletes needs to be assessed before they are allowed to get back in fray for competitions. Most national campers, preparing for either the Olympic Games or for qualification, will need some time before they can compete.

‘Athlete First’ Approach Needed

It does seem strange that athletes have not been consulted when drawing up plans for resumption of sport in India. The Indian Olympic Association president Dr. Narendra Dhruv Batra has initiated a study, of course, and has wisely attempted to reach out to athletes through national federations and state sports associations. Some athletes that I have spoken with are unaware of such a study.

When the world badminton federation (BWF) announced its schedule for the rest of the year, you could immediately hear the chorus of protests in India. It is evident that the mandarins of the BWF did not consult a range of players when drawing up the schedule.

For that matter, those who drew up the schedule have not addressed several crucial issues about quarantine, precautions and emergency response in the host cities to build confidence among the players.

India vs European Model

Besides, there are logistical differences that have to be considered. Given that the sports ecosystem functions rather differently in Europe, it is hard to envisage India replicating some of the initiatives undertaken in that continent. For instance, football teams in European nations do not have to travel long distances as athletes and teams in India have to.

European football teams have their own mode of travel – plush coaches or self-driven cars and chartered aircraft when they have to travel longer distances.

The DFL (German Football League) guidelines, for instance, suggest that the players and support staff are put up in exclusive hotels or on exclusive floors to prevent contact with other guests. It seeks dedicated entrance for the teams, dedicated areas in the hotel without other guests and dedicated lifts.

One of the most important components of the document that Bundesliga has produced is the testing protocol. Besides players and support staff being subject to frequent testing, PCR testing will be carried out on private (household) contacts as well. Of course, such a regime can be recommended in India as well but will be difficult to implement due to the cultural differences.

At the time when testing for COVID-19 is still being ramped up and there are reports of delays by private labs, it will be too much to expect sports facilities will be extended special treatment by the health authorities.

Unlike the European clubs, sports associations in India are largely dependent on public facilities – from leasing stadia to medical facilities. They don’t have their own medics on their payroll or stadiums that are exclusive to them.

Above all, India must remember that its health care facilities do not compare with those are obtained in Europe. Given the belief that the incidence of COVID-19 has not yet peaked in India, it is imperative that sports competitions are delayed until it is very safe to resume such events in the country. Our athletes must be left free to train until the situation gets better.

And yes, if we really care for our athletes, we must ensure that their point of view is taken into account when making any plans for resumption of sporting competition. They are the centre of the sports universe and must be the most important decision-makers when it comes to choosing when competitions can resume.

(G Rajaraman is a Delhi-based student of sport who has been writing and commenting for 35 years. This is an opinion piece. The views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for them.)

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