Immediate priority will be to evolve a plan for Olympic hopefuls, says SFI

Welcoming the government’s decision to reopen pools for training, the Swimming Federation of India (SFI) on Thursday said its “immediate priority” is to chart out a plan for the Olympic hopefuls, which includes providing international competition exposure.

In the Ministry of Home Affairs’ latest guidelines on easing of lockdown restrictions, swimming pools being used for training of sports persons have been given permission to open across the country from October 15.

“All the efforts in the last couple of months we have been making has fortunately paid off in this round of unlock. We are feeling elated,” SFI secretary general Monal Chokshi told PTI.

“Immediate priority will be the Olympic hopefuls, we still have some time to plan, they are coming back (from Dubai) only on the 19th. We will evolve a plan soon.

“We will get in touch with SAI and TOPS division as to whether we get them into a camp at a specific facility or they resume training in their respective centres,” he added.

The restriction on swimming pools, in place since March 24, had forced SFI to send its Olympic hopefuls to train in Dubai.

The federation is now working on drafting a training and tournament schedule for the elite swimmers so that they can get the required competition exposure ahead of the Olympics.

“We also have to think about competition exposure for the elite swimmers. We will make a training and tournament schedule for them.”

A revised Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) has already been sent to the SAI and the Sports Ministry’s approval is expected soon.

“The Task Force has made modifications to the original SOP because in July the situation was different. It was for elite level swimmers to train in one or two facilities. Now, this relaxation means all competitive swimmers preparing for competitions can get back to training,” Chokshi said.

A preparatory camp mid November, which will include swimmers with potential to achieve the Olympic B Qualification mark alongside those who are aiming for the A mark, is also in the works.

“Swimmers have been away from the water for six months now. Their individual coaches need to take them back into the water and get them into some reasonable shape before they start camp.

“We have a list of 18-20 people who will be part of the camp and competitions. They have to be back in the pool for 30-40 days before we get them into camp.

“By the end of the month we will have a semblance of a plan,” Chokshi added.

Any domestic competition looks unlikely as it is not known how many states will open pools and swimmers from the north will be at a disadvantage.

“Organising any major competition would be unfair because swimmers from north India wouldn’t be able to train due to the cold weather. There are no indoor pools.

“We were looking at the National championship in December but it doesn’t look feasible. We don’t want to rush and have injuries,” Chokshi said.

Swimmers also hailed the decision to open the pools.

Virdhawal Khade, who opted out of the Dubai training camp, was delighted by the decision.

“I am very happy. I have spoken to Nihar (Ameen) sir and he is thrilled. Generally the mood in the swimming community is very good and positive.

“Unfortunately, the Maharashtra government pools are not opening till at least the 31st. That’s a little disappointing I would like them to take an example from the central government’s direction about allowing only competitive swimming to happen and if that happens all of us will be extra thankful,” he added.

Srihari Nataraj, who is currently training in Dubai, said: “I am glad pools have opened. I will always prefer training at home than going out”.