Athletes are obsessed with movement. Being static isn’t part of their DNA and while the novel coronavirus pandemic forced people indoors and lockdowns became the grim reality, sportspersons struggled with the new normal. Ironically, before the virus leapt into vulnerable lungs, sporting schedules cut across continents and the whispered plea in locker rooms was about the need to rest sore muscles. But once the pause button was pressed, activities such as sprinting on the turf with the accompaniments of adequate sunshine and spectators, became a longing. However, many of these kinetic individuals devised their coping mechanisms. New Zealand cricket captain Kane Williamson gave catching practice to his dog, England all-rounder Ben Stokes bowled in the driveway, Indian tennis star Rohan Bopanna slammed forehands into walls while speedster Jasprit Bumrah cleaned his home daily. Yet, this wasn’t enough. Even if sport is shedding its rust as evident in the Bundesliga football that commenced in Germany, sports icons in the world at large and specifically in India, needed their regular fix of training at grounds and gyms. Staying fit and healthy was non-negotiable in the build-up towards the eventual return of sport. Seen in that light, the Home Ministry’s diktat that stadia can be opened across India without the crowds, a point echoed by Sports Minister Kiren Rijiju, is welcome news for athletes of all shades, be it Olympians or cue-sports players.
Sporting legacies are built upon what transpires on the field when two legends or teams clash but the pathway that leads to it is built upon long hours in the gym and skill-enhancement drills replicated ahead of competitions. And as grounds and Sports Authority of India facilities allow coaches and their wards to prepare for the delayed season ahead that includes next year’s Olympics and a World Twenty20, to name a few, hygiene practices have to be strictly adhered to. Wearing masks, using hand sanitisers especially in gyms that can harbour bacteria and viruses on various equipment, and avoiding a common sporting reflex — the ubiquitous high five, are absolutely essential as athletes wear their jerseys and kick-start their routines, even if not at the competitive level. At the top, sport may seem like all glitter and stardust but its foundation is built upon struggling journeymen. For instance, the rookie tennis player chasing points and the athlete trying to shrug aside rural poverty, will not have the money to construct a state-of-the-art gym inside their homes with price points stretching into lakhs. Nor do they stay in gated communities with jogging tracks. Opening up the sporting infrastructure across the country will help this needy base besides the established stars. A quiet start has been made even if competitive sport in India is some distance away.