Tokyo Is Ready, Indian Athletes Aren’t

In many ways, the countdown for the postponed Tokyo Olympics have begun. The Summer Games will be held from July 23, to August 8, 2021. With each passing day, there is more reassurance from the stakeholders the Games will be held.

Going by official statements emanating from the International Olympic Committee, headed by President Thomas Bach, and the local Tokyo Organising Committee, efforts to stage the Olympics in a new environment are being made in a huge way.

When the Olympics were first postponed in 2020 after the Covid-19 pandemic broke out in summer, there was an overall sense of despondency. For the organisers, participating nations, competing athletes and everyone associated with the world’s biggest sporting spectacle, it was a sinking feeling. At that time, the pandemic had wrecked the confidence of all, especially the athletes who were hoping to peak in July 2020.

Today, the general feeling is if there is one country which can host the Olympics, it has to be Japan. Known as a country for its clockwork precision, discipline and being genteel, the host city is leaving no stone unturned to ensure the Olympics are staged in the best way.

From the spectators point of view as well, there is good news. The Games will happen, though the protocols will be very different and stringent. When over 30 per cent of the tickets for various events were returned, it offered another chance for the same tickets to be sold again.

ALOS READ: Covid Has Maimed Sports Fraternity

To expect full houses at blue-riband events like athletics, swimming and gymnastics may be tough but with the race for a Corona virus vaccine now at peak, it is assumed Japan will be fully ready.

From the IOC’s point of view, the Summer Games is top priority and the frontline workers who will be working with the event will be given the first vaccine. The best part is that the host city is leaving nothing to chance and athletes will obviously be accorded top priority vis a vis health measures. The same goes for support staff and thousands of frontline workers who will be associated with the Games.

As of today, the world is still battling the Corona virus and also trying to ensure sporting activity resumes slowly. Europe has seen the resumption of many sporting activities and so have other parts of the world. Leagues in football and other sport have come back to life, Formula One is back with a bang, what with Lewis Hamilton winning a record-equalling seventh world title. Pro golf action is also picking up.

Cricket first resumed with two bilateral series in England, followed  by the Indian Premier League in the United Arab Emirates. At present, there are another two bilateral cricket series on with T20 leagues in Sri Lanka and the women’s Big Bash also taking place Down Under.

The message is clear, sport will resume and the Olympics will be staged.

So, where does that leave countries which seek Olympic glory? Everyone knows, Wuhan, the city which is officially recognised as the first place in China where the first Covid-19 case broke out over a year is now normal. Flights are operational, tourists are visiting Wuhan and glad the bad memories are being erased.

Just as China has battled the Corona virus bravely, their athletes aspiring for Olympic glory are training full steam. Of course, it is too early to talk of who will win what in Tokyo and perhaps Olympic test events in 2021 and more qualifiers in the New Year will provide indicators.

The world has never known how Chinese athletes train and where. There is secrecy in it for sure and 100 per cent dedication. So, China, hosts Japan and the other powerhouses of sport like USA and Britain are  providing their athletes the facilities to train for Tokyo.

That brings us to India, a country which craves for Olympic medals and has never been able to win big. To be sure, the Covid-19 pandemic has wrecked India’s preparations. Lockdown did a lot of a damage though the elite athletes were lucky they got full support from the Indian government.

Camps in the Sports Authority of India campuses in Bengaluru, Patiala and a few cities in the North have resumed. But there is a big catch, while athletes are training and competing among themselves, one is not sure about their preparedness in the toughest sense.

ALSO READ: Has BCCI Lost Its Thinking Cap?

Going to the Olympics is not a party like before. In the old days, Indian athletes went to the Summer Games just to participate. The narrative has changed in the last 24 years since the time Leander Paes won a bronze medal at the Atlanta Olympics. Of course, the peak was Abhinav Bindra winning gold in Beijing in 2008.

Indian athletes today have themselves been laid low by Covid-19. From hockey players to wrestlers like VInesh Phogat and Narsingh Yadav, many have tested positive for Corona virus. When the hockey camps resumed in the end of July, four players tested positive and had to be admitted to hospital. No research has been done as to what extent these athletes have dealt with post-Covid complications.

The badminton camp in Hyderabad is in shambles. PV Sindhu is now training in England and Saina Nehwal is over the hill. So, if you are talking of a medal again from badminton, Sindhu still offers hope, though the next crop of players are nowhere to be seen.

Preparing champions for the Olympics is serious business. The Indian government is spending big bucks on athletes and foreign coaches. However, the postponement of the Olympics does give an impression now the Indian athletes are so scared of Covid-19, his or her preparation for July 2021 may be inadequate.

Shooting is one sport where India have done well since 2004. However, zero medals from the 2016 Rio Olympics was a shocker. Maybe, had the Games been held in 2020, Indian shooters would have been sure medal prospects.

As of today, even the most ardent admirer and fan of Indian sport is sceptical about what will happen in 2021 in Tokyo. Covid-19 cannot be an excuse. Bio bubbles have been created for the Indian athletes as well in various cities.

The big step forward is to compete and win in 2021 before the Olympics, including the Olympic qualifiers, which will be the litmus test. Covid-19 fear has to be conquered what with the vaccine now a certainty in 2021. If the normal man has resumed life despite the pandemic, it is about time the Indian athletes also show the same purpose and poise.

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