The alacrity with which Olympic-bound athletes are being extended support is impressive

Viren Rasquinha
Viren Rasquinha

19 Jun, 2021

Byline: Viren Rasquinha

About a month ago, VineshPhogat was in a quandary. India’s ace wrestler’s plans of returning to India from her high altitude training camp in Bulgaria were scuttled by the aftermath of the second wave of the Covid-19 pandemic. Flights to and from India were getting cancelled. Securing visas for travel to Europe was getting tough. Uncertainty was the only steady companion.

Worse, even after she relocated her base to Budapest in Hungary to be able to continue training under the watchful eyes of her coach, WollerAkos, doubts about her securing her first dose of vaccination grew with each passing day. The Hungarians were vaccinating their own and the best efforts by the club and coach came to a naught, with the Poland Open looming on the horizon.

Concerned, we sought the help of the Sports Authority of India. Its Director General wrote to the Embassy of India in Hungary. Our Ambassador Kumar Tuhin went the extra mile to ensure that Vinesh would get vaccinated on a Saturday – and those who are familiar with systems in Europe will know how hard it is to get that done over a weekend. This was critical to give her enough time to recover from any potential side effects of the vaccine for the Poland Open where she went on to win Gold. This quick action also gives Vinesh enough time to take the second dose well before the Tokyo Olympics.

A few days ago, the Embassy of India in Croatia helped the rifle and pistol shooters get their second jabs in Zagreb, barely a couple of days after the Empowered Group allowed Olympic Games-bound athletes to reduce the gap between their two doses to 28 days. It is very heartening to see that the Government has been responsive to the needs of the athletes. Every one percent makes a difference in the final analysis.

Come to think of it, vaccination of Indian athletes in the past six weeks is a very good example of the levels of preparation and the speed of reaction with regard to the Tokyo-bound athletes and officials. It is a strong reflection of how athletes, irrespective of discipline and the region they hail from, have come to occupy pride of place in the corridors of sports administration.

Netaji Subhas National Institute of Sports, Patiala, and the SAI Centre of Excellence, Bangalore, are hubs where athletes were vaccinated as soon as Government announced jabs for 18-plus. Besides, the coordination with State Governments has ensured that other Tokyo-bound athletes would be vaccinated in their home cities.

I must say that the levels of empathy, the speed and the quality of work by Government towards helping the athletes stay in good physical and mental shape, with training and competition, have been refreshingly high in this entire last Olympic cycle and this despite the pandemic. The intention has been backed with prompt action so that claims of placing the ‘Athlete First’ are well justified.

(The writer is a member of the Mission Olympic Cell, he is a former Captain of the Indian Hockey team and the CEO of Olympic Gold Quest)