Achanta Sharath Kamal won the Oman Open in Muscat last week, his first international title in over a decade.
What do you do when you can’t travel? For athletes, the question becomes more than just a bridle on leisure, it is about sustenance itself. While a majority of sporting events have been postponed and cancelled over the past week, there are some that have continued. Some were caught in the scheduling panic typical of large scale decision making — last minute and ad-hoc. Which meant often enough participants were already at a venue, when decisions on postponements were taken leading to chaos.
In some cases, the tournaments went ahead, and the possibility of a long future without one meant those participating grabbed their chance with both hands, a situation perfectly exemplified by Achanta Sharath Kamal, who won his first table tennis world tour (ITTF) title in over a decade at the Oman Open in Muscat.
Even as news of sports events getting cancelled or postponed slowly leaked through the Internet, Kamal, along with other Indian players including Harmeet Desai, was in Muscat to compete in the ITTF Challenge Plus event. Around the same time, the Polish Open also got suspended till April amid Coronavirus scare.
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"When I heard about the Polish Open being suspended, I thought I made a big, big mistake by coming here," Sharath, who was back with his wife and kids in Chennai on Monday, told PTI.
As it was though, Kamal excelled at the tournament, keeping his mind on the job while others perhaps couldn’t, even beating the World No. 26, Marcos Freitas 4-2 in the final to break his decade long duck. “There were a lot of top-level players who didn't withdraw because of the forthcoming Olympic Games. Though I was the fourth seed, around 16 players were pretty close to me,” Kamal said, “So I think the competition was pretty stiff. I was just lucky to have a draw which was more suitable to me and I did well.”
As a precautionary measure, despite having returned without any symptoms, Kamal is observing self-quarantine at home. "In times like these, you obviously think about your family and they are worried about you. But when it was confirmed that the tournament would go on, I had to focus on the job," Kamal said.
“I will be looking to cut down on my social commitments and will prefer to stay at home because that's what the situation demands currently,” he added.
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Kamal’s case is extraordinary, and also perhaps negotiable given the circumstances he found himself in, in Oman. For Kushagra Rawat, the dangers could not have been more stark. As a swimmer he was always going to be susceptible to the dangers of competing in contaminated water, and in addition his Olympic qualifier was in Australia. Rawat, undeterred, went ahead though, and went on to win a bronze medal in the 400 freestyle, erasing Sajan Prakash’s 400m national record in the process with a time of 3:52.75. The time was also within the ‘B’ standard qualification mark for the Olympics.
“The Coronavirus situation is worse in Australia than in Delhi. Though there’s not been many cases on the Gold Coast, pools are getting shut and meets cancelled,” Rawat said. Uncertain about how things will pan out in June when he was targeting the Singapore Championship to aim for the ‘A’ cut, he is, for the moment staying put in Sydney.
Monal Chokshi, Secretary General of Swimming Federation of India (SFI), understands the precarious position it puts several athletes under and credits Rawat for braving them.
“I am very happy to learn about the performance of Kushagra at the NSW open swimming championship in Australia,” he said, “The global Coronavirus pandemic is extremely unfortunate as it casts a shadow over the dreams of so many athletes worldwide. We were very hopeful for some of our swimmers to make the A qualifying mark this year. This would have been a historical milestone for India but now with the precautions required to check the spread of the virus and safety of all concerned being of paramount concern we are keeping our fingers crossed and watching the situation closely.”
While the swimming federation grapples with the dilemma of sending its swimmers out for competition — or indeed finding enough competitions for them to participate in — the National Rifle Association of India (NRAI) took a different route. They have chosen to go ahead with offering their athletes trials, without a future in sight.
Last month India pulled out of the Nicosia Shotgun World Cup. Subsequently the ISSF World Cup, which was scheduled from March 15-26 in New Delhi was postponed due to rapid spread of Covid-19. The postponement was forced after the government issued fresh directives and multiple withdrawals from several shooters from across the globe.
Faced with an empty schedule, the NRAI has improvised, holding Olympic trials in the midst of the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic. This participation is nothing but absurd since the whole point of not being a part of the ISSF World Cup was to stay away from contact with people in the time of a pandemic.
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As per reports, shooters such as Manu Bhaker, Chinki Yadav, Apurvi Chandela, Mehuli Ghosh and Elavenil Valarivan along with others took part in the trials at the Karni Singh Shooting Range for their respective pistol and rifle events.
A release from the NRAI justified the trials without shedding much light on the sense that it makes.
“Due to India pulling out of the Nicosia Shotgun World Cup earlier this month and the postponement of the New Delhi combined World Cup due to the global COVID-19 outbreak, final trials are being conducted for those selected in the Indian Squads for the above two mentioned World Cups, so that they can register their final remaining scores, before the Olympic team is announced,” the release said.
With the spread of the virus multiplying everyday, sports events have not just postponed but are making alternate timelines for their scheduling already. On March 17, UEFA announced the postponement of the Men’s European Championships by an entire year, to 2021. UEFA also has the women’s Euro scheduled for next year, so it remains to be seen how this plays out.
In addition, Roland Garros organisers announced that they had postponed the clay court Grand Slam to late September — a week after the US Open ends — but did so without consulting any player bodies. The suggestion is that 12 time French Open champion Rafael Nadal may be forced to give the tournament a miss since it clashes with his product, the Laver Cup.
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