CHENNAI: Recent conversations on mental health is once again at the forefront after Hockey India (HI), in consultation with the Sports Authority of India (SAI), allowed around 50 members of the men's and women's teams to return home for a month. They were in Bengaluru. It's learned that players from both teams had not been in the best shape mentally.
It has been known for more than two months that the players wanted to go home. But the authorities, because of the path of the pandemic as well as travel restrictions and quarantine rules, did not sanction their departure. Captains of both teams even made a presentation in May, but the officials did not relent. They pointed out that if they go, they could lose a month of training because of quarantine regulations.
The women's team spent 125 days in the camp. The men were there for 98 days. HI relented at the start of this week and gave the green signal to the players and support staff on Tuesday. As of now, only four players (Suraj Karkera, Vandana Katariya, Sushila Chanu, Lalremsiami) and as many support staff (Graham Reid, Chris Ciriello, Robin Arkell, Watne Lombard) will remain in Bengaluru. Women's chief coach Sjoerd Marijne and analytical coach Janneke Janneke Schopman were scheduled to fly to the Netherlands via Mumbai.
A HI press release indicated that the players will report back to camp on July 19, but it's not known if they will have to take a Covid-19 test and/or quarantine themselves. "HI and SAI will take a call when it's closer to that date," a source said. "Some tests are likely because they will be returning to a sanitised environment but it's early to have a conversation on those lines."
Speaking to several team members, a clear pattern emerged. "They (the administrators) knew that we weren't alright mentally," a player said on the condition of anonymity. "We haven't seen our families since March. There was bound to be some degree of anxiousness."
Athletes often say they are mentally strong, but this player lifted the lid on the loneliness in the camp. "You can say we are mentally strong but the truth is we are lonely most of the time. Family gives you that additional mental support one needs at a time like this. There is nothing like seeing them and being with them, even for a few days. Not being with them has taken a mental toll on us. We are happy we have been allowed this break, it will allow us to come back refreshed."
Another player spoke on similar lines. "This was a tough time... it became a little frustrating in the last few weeks," this player said on condition of anonymity. While the size of the campus allowed them to maintain social distancing, spending so much time away from family was beginning to ebb. "Even though we could go out of our rooms, we were away from our families for a long period. The situation was getting complicated."
The player said it was a good time to leave the premises. "If we have to be quarantined, we can restart practice by August and that's more than enough time to prepare for matches at the end of the year. This break, after spending some 100 days in the camp, will help us recharge our batteries."
That was one of the main reasons why both coaches signed off on the players' request. With no international matches scheduled at least till November, they felt it would be wise to sanction a break.