CHENNAI: "Hopefully, we are safe," were the words of para badminton player Palak Kohli, when asked about her and the team's safety in Kampala, Uganda following the multiple blasts that rocked the capital city on Tuesday. One of the blasts occurred hardly 100 metres away from the team hotel where most of India's para shuttlers are staying.
The team of 54 shuttlers and five-member support staff reached the country to compete in the Uganda Para Badminton International, which began on Tuesday. The team includes Pramod Bhagat, the 2020 Paralympics gold medallist and Manoj Sarkar, the bronze medallist from the quadrennial event. Palak also competed in the Paralympics.
As many as 15 players and two coaches are staying at Hotel Africana while the remaining are staying at the Holiday Express. It's close to Holiday Express where the blasts took place.
Palak, who is staying at Africana, said they were about to board the bus when the explosions took place. "We were immediately taken inside the hotel. The blasts have led to chaos with everyone running around for safety. There was panic all around. We even saw the plumes of smoke coming out from the blast site," said Palak, who got a bye in the first round.
News reports said that one blast was close to a police station and another on a street near the parliamentary building. Police described the incident as a coordinated attack by extremists.
"I am staying at Africana and left the hotel early because my match was scheduled early in the morning. I came to know about the attack when fellow teammates reached the venue. It's really scary as we have never witnessed such things in the past. We all are scared and trying to shift players staying at the other hotel to Africana. Coaches are in talks with the organisers," Sarkar, who won the first round, told this daily.
Chief coach Gaurav Khanna confirmed that the players were in a state of shock and had to be counselled to ensure they compete in their respective matches. "All of them were shocked as most of them were on the bus on its way to the venue when the blasts happened. They were rushed back to the hotel but the incident has left them shaken. They, however, were counselled by me and fellow coaches following which they took part in the event," informed Khanna.
Khanna, who got calls from the sports ministry and Sports Authority of India, is in constant touch with the Indian Embassy in Uganda.