'The minister said it will take some time to come to a decision.'
Sports Minister Kiren Rijiju on Tuesday said a team has been formed to draw up a post-lockdown Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) to be followed by athletes, coaches and other staff during outdoor training that will resume in a "planned manner".
He assured the athletes that their training will resume soon but given the risks the coronavirus pandemic poses, the process will involve consultations with home and health ministries.
During a virtual meeting, Rijiju sought suggestions from elite track and field athletes housed in National Institute of Sports (NIS) in Patiala and Sports Authority of India (SAI) Centre in Bengaluru to understand their requirement to resume training once the nationwide lockdown is lifted.
"We have already made the committee to set up the Standard Operating Procedures (SOP) to be followed by athletes, coaches and other staff during training. Your suggestions will help us frame the rules better," Rijiju told the athletes according to a release issued by his ministry.
"I am happy that all of you are in a positive frame of mind and are keen to start training. Even we are keen that you get back on the field, but it has to be done in a planned manner so that none of you are exposed to any health hazard."
He spoke to more than 40 athletes from various disciplines, including star sprinter Hima Das and javelin thrower Neeraj Chopra.
Also present were athletes Tajinder Toor, Kt Irfan, Shivpal Singh, Poovamma, Jinson Johnson, Mohammad Anas.
"I am hopeful that we will be able to come up with a concrete decision soon. However, this is a national emergency and no ministry can work in isolation. We will have to consult the Ministry of Home Affairs as well as the health ministry and take their directions," Rijiju added.
Every athlete shared their concern about losing out on real time training owing to the pandemic and requested for on-ground training to be started within the SAI campuses in Bengaluru and Patiala.
Athletics Federation of India president Adille Summeriwala, who was also a part of the meeting, said that the minister has made it clear that they "cannot rush into a decision", even though the athletes want to start outdoor training.
"Athletes want to resume training but we have made it clear to them that they will have to strictly adhere to the guidelines of social distancing and health protocols which will be decided in the standard operating procedures being prepared by SAI and Ministry," Summeriwala said.
"Also, they have been told that even when the lockdown is lifted they cannot venture out of the camps since they have been living in a protected environment since March and are more prone to getting infected.
"If any athlete leaves the camp after the lockdown is lifted, we will not allow him or her to come back and train."
AFI high-performance director Volker Hermann, who is currently in Patiala feels that the presence of two athletic tracks and two gyms at NCEO Patiala makes it possible for athletes to start their training in batches without the risk of compromising on social distancing norms.
"We have already laid out a plan which allows minimum numbers of athletes to train at a particular time, yet the daily schedule allows for everyone to train," he said.
Speaking about the need to get back to the ground again, race-walker Irfan, who has already qualified for the Tokyo Olympics and is in NCEO Bangalore, told the minister, "I am already doing core training and other fitness training inside the room and in the stretch of greens outside my room.
"However, I need to clock a minimum mileage every week and that is only possible if I get back to regular training. If I can train on the tracks or on the road inside the campus, it will be good enough for me."
Javelin thrower Shivpal Singh, who has also qualified for the Olympics, said, "I am ready to follow all rules and train at any time of the day or night that is assigned to me as per the schedule made by our coaches. I don't mind training even at night."
On her part, Hima said, "Since there are two athletic tracks in Patiala and we don't need to train in groups, we can easily maintain social distancing."