A day after the Ministry of Home affairs (MHA) issued guidelines that appeared to loosen restrictions related to sporting activities, training remained suspended with officials citing a lack of clarity over what the rules actually meant.
Even as the nationwide lockdown against the coronavirus was extended, the MHA guidelines on Sunday stated that sports complexes and stadia will be permitted to open without spectators.
Late on Monday evening, Kiren Rijiju, the Minister for Youth Affairs and Sports, issued a tweet stating that sports activities will be conducted in sports complexes and stadia, but "strictly in accordance with MHA guidelines and that of the States in which they are situated." He also added that gyms and swimming pools would continue to remain closed.
I'm happy to inform sportspersons and all concerned that sports activities will be conducted in sports complexes and stadia strictly in accordance with MHA guidelines and that of the States in which they are situated. However, use of gyms & swimming pools are still prohibited. pic.twitter.com/zDHECy09iF
- Kiren Rijiju (@KirenRijiju) May 18, 2020
B Sacheti, general secretary of the Boxing Federation of India (BFI) felt the guidelines were vague. "I had spoken to Sports Authority of India (SAI) yesterday evening after the guidelines were announced. Even SAI felt it was not clear. I understand that the stadium premises are open. But, are sports activities open too? They are saying no spectators but that is probably meant for competition. It's a little vague on the details," said Sacheti .
The lack of clarity was echoed by officials from other federations too. Hockey India issued a statement that they were "awaiting suitable guidelines from the [MYAS], and the [SAI], on restarting the National Camps."
Meanwhile, the All India Tennis Association (AITA) also said they were awaiting clarity on guidelines. "We will look at the possibility of resuming coaching activities and if possible, to restart local tournaments in some way."
Other federation officials said that while athletes might be able to train individually at stadium complexes, conducting a national camp was not possible unless several factors, which the new MHA guidelines did not touch, were met.
"We don't have any plans to restart the coaching camps. We might not begin until July," Rajiv Bhatia, secretary general of the National Rifle Association of India (NRAI) said.
"It is not one person who is involved with the activity," he added. "If you are shooting in a group, you need a range officer and other operators to be there. As an individual, perhaps you can go there and shoot. But when a lot of people are training together, we will need range officials who have to give them the command to start shooting."
Bhatia added that while SAI had issued a set of Standard Operating Protocols (SOP) to sports federations regarding precautions to follow while restarting training, the rules were still unclear. "I have seen the SAI SOPs and the MHA guidelines but these rules need to be stadium specific," he said.
"The requirements of the shooting team might be different from the requirements of the boxing team. Our main concern isn't practising social distancing at training -- it's about where it's possible for people to travel with ammunition during lockdowns," said Bhatia.
Even in a situation where officials seemed eager to restart training, not all athletes were on board.
Table tennis federation of India (TTFI) secretary general MP Singh had written to Indian players on Monday morning, seeking their availability. "We have written to the players (eight men and eight women) to check their availability for the training camp as early as next week. If they are ready to resume training, we can organise something by next week or end of the month," Singh was quoted as saying by PTI.
In response, Indian players had demurred. "We were asked to join camp at the end of the month but I feel it is too early for that. Cases continue to rise and travel restrictions are in place. Training can wait until situation improves significantly," World No. 31 Achanta Sharath Kamal, who is based in Chennai, said.
The only certainty about the situation seemed to be that athletes wouldn't be returning to training anytime soon. "We need to wait to gain more clarity on the guidelines. What we have now is a directive on opening up sports complexes and stadiums; resumption of training is the next step. Unofficially I can share with you that I approached the ministry and they said, 'just wait, you can't start as of now,'" a senior national coach said.