The national team players were supposed to restart training in mid-May, but their wait got prolonged after a SAI staffer passed away and tested positive for the coronavirus.
After nearly 70 days, Indian hockey teams returned to the turf on Monday morning; the first team sport to resume activities since the lockdown was imposed on March 25. It was training like never before, vastly different from what they are used to. But as a player put it, ‘at least we could feel the ball hitting the stick again.’ It was largely just about that.
For more than a month, there had been a growing sense of frustration among the players that they were not being allowed to train despite spending most of the lockdown quarantined inside the Sports Authority of India’s Bengaluru campus. When the government did give them the green signal in mid-May, their wait got prolonged after a SAI staffer passed away and tested positive for the coronavirus. After spending nearly two weeks in isolation since that incident, the players were at last allowed to step on to the field again.
Social distancing protocols mean that the teams have been divided into two groups. Half of them resumed training on the hockey turf while the rest began the ‘unlockdown’ with some fitness drills. A group of woman players, for instance, spent their morning on the football ground where they were given tasks to perform by physio Wayne Parnell. The men, too, followed the same pattern. On Tuesday, both groups will swap their tasks.
Fewer number of players on the field meant full-fledged training was not possible. So, both teams indulged in some very rudimentary drills: passing and receiving. The session lasted nearly an hour and a half. “That was the only thing possible because of the distancing norms. Initially, that’s what our training will look like,” a source said, adding that there was stiffness and soreness of muscles given that outdoor training resumed after a long hiatus.
The coaches and assistant coaches of both teams, too, had to maintain a distance from the players. That meant they could only observe and give instructions from the touchline and not be involved in the action as they usually are during training. After each session, the turf was sprayed with disinfectants.
The source said the teams will gradually get into full-contact training but that will be only after SAI and Hockey India give their go-ahead. Hockey India, in its Standard Operating Procedure for the national teams, had suggested full-contact training for the teams since they had been in quarantine.
India are behind Belgium and the Netherlands by almost a month in terms of restarting training. The 2018 World Cup finalists were given permission by their respective governments last month. Like India, they too had to maintain a minimum distance of 1.5m during their 90-minute session, meaning only passing drills were possible. Australian players, too, have been given the go-ahead to resume training on the turf.