Olympic-bound paddlers chart course amid second COVID wave

With regards to tournaments, ITTF are currently locked in discussions with the Chinese government regarding creating a bubble there and conducting two WTT events in May.

Published: 01st April 2021 11:46 PM  |   Last Updated: 01st April 2021 11:46 PM   |  A+A-

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For representational purposes

Express News Service

NEW DELHI: India's four Olympic-bound paddlers have returned from their Doha exploits and have started preparing for Tokyo in earnest.

However, due to the evolving Covid-19 situation in the country and around the world, they have had to make multiple contingency plans in case one of them do not work out.

Most of the players have ambitions of training abroad and playing in a few competitions before July but that might prove to be tougher than expected. Europe is the favoured destination for most but the situation with regards to the virus is pretty grim.

A sudden lockdown or infection there might hamper plans. With regards to tournaments, ITTF are currently locked in discussions with the Chinese government regarding creating a bubble there and conducting two WTT events in May.

However, quarantine rules have proved to be a major roadblock. While the government favours a hard quarantine of 14 days, the world body are trying to bring it down to three-four days.

Keeping these factors in mind, G Sathiyan has taken the risk of travelling to Poland to play in the Polish Superliga.

"A lack of competitive matches in the build-up to the Olympics is a major headache. And playing here against quality opponents in a high-pressure situation will definitely be a boost," the Chennai paddler told this daily from Poland.

Sharath's name is in the list for the China hub but he also has made alternate arrangements. Currently practicing with two junior India paddlers, Sharath has spoken to TTFI and Target Olympic Podium Scheme regarding getting a couple of foreign sparring partners over to India in case foreign travel is not possible.

"I have been speaking to players of certain countries and the federation is also trying. We need to keep these plans ready in case the global situation worsens," said the paddler preparing for his fourth Olympics.

It will certainly not be easy as there are visa and quarantine rules to think about. Even Sathiyan has planned along these lines. Apart from singles, India will be fielding the pair of Sharath and Manika Batra in mixed doubles as well.

Many feel this might be India's best chance at an Olympic medal and the pair have decided to practice together in Pune at the India Khelega centre where Manika trains. Sharath will be going there sometime in the latter part of April. Manika already trains with Kiril Barabanov, her Belarussian sparring partner which has helped her in the recent qualifiers.

Sutirtha Mukherjee's is a different case altogether. While her coach Soumyadeep Roy has made her train with a couple of top-10 Indian male paddlers at his academy in Kolkata, a stint abroad or getting sparring partners has proved diffiicult due to lack of funds.

"Both the player and TTFI are in talks with the Target Olympic Podium School team. They have assured us of help. This will help us plan ahead. Even the Haryana government has promised to help us. If these
work out, we can plan even better," was how her coach put it.

While a foreign training stint or sparring partners is the road most want to take, the last resort is getting all the top paddlers of the country into a centralised location and holding a national camp along the lines of the one held in Sonepat last year.

"The funny thing is even after keeping so many plans ready, we also have had to keep sort of a last resort handy as well. The coming months will be testing for us all but all of us have to work together and find our best foot forward," Sharath added.


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