A year with all work and a little play
There were sweeping changes in the way we lived, worked and played this year, and among the activities that the pandemic brought to a grinding halt was sports.
The lockdown was relaxed in September, but most people preferred to stay indoors. Parents still don’t want to send their children for training. Fear looms large.
Football and cricket activities have restarted slowly, but most other sports are yet to restart. National-level tournaments are ruled out, as train services are disrupted. In Bengaluru, we have two main sports hostels – SAI and DYES. Both are yet to reopen. Those in charge of the hostels are understandably scared, because even if one sportsperson or staff member tests positive, the whole hostel has to be closed again.
Everybody is taking a cautious approach, especially when it involves contact sports like hockey. It remains to be seen how educational institutions approach sports activities. They are already behind in their curriculum, so their priority will be academics.
Tough on young talent
The long break is especially tough on promising young talent. Under normal circumstances, a player progresses from the State under-14 team to under-16 to under-21 and so on. But now, if they don’t play for two years, they will lose out on valuable time. When sports does return, they will be ineligible to play in that age group. They will be forced to try out for the higher age group team, and they will not be ready. A crucial two years of skill and career development are interrupted. The tried and tested age-group structure stands broken.
Seniors suffer too
Talented senior players are affected too. The senior national hockey championships that were postponed last year haven’t taken place yet. The 2021 national championships may be deferred too. It means that new talented players have not been identified and added to the Indian hockey team camp. Take the case of a promising player who is set to break into the national team. That person has lost out on two full years, and he/she is now out of contention.
Except cricket, all other sports will be badly affected by a lack of sponsorship. Most companies simply do not have the financial power to invest in sports. They have suffered losses owing to the pandemic.
The Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) may have managed to successfully conduct the IPL without fans, but most other sports will suffer. In hockey, we don’t earn anything through gate or ticket collection. Every association is obliged to conduct tournaments. Unless we raise our own funds, we cannot conduct these tournaments. Raising our own funds is next to impossible. The entry fee for our tournaments is a pittance. It does not cover even the basic costs. We cannot ask our affiliated private clubs to pay higher entry fees, as they too have suffered losses.
As for the livelihood of sportspersons, those employed with Public Sector Units – Railways, Banks, Postal Department – are better placed than others. All sports activities may have come to a halt, but job security is taken care of in government jobs.
Nothing can be said with conviction for another six months. Just when you get some satisfaction – with the number of cases steadily reducing in the country – a new strain emerges. Once again, everyone is scared. We have to wait for the vaccination, see the results, and then take a call on how to bring sports back to life.
(K. Krishnamurthy is the Honorary Secretary of the Bengaluru Hockey Association)