Fresh Covid wave leaves Indian athletes facing travel uncertainty

Amid the raging Covid-19 pandemic in India, many countries have imposed travel restrictions on Indians. A series of Tokyo Olympics qualification events and build up tournaments in various sports are lined up in the next few weeks and federation officials and athletes are spending anxious moments over participation. Curfew in many cities, including the Capital, has only compounded their problem of organising travel and logistics.

India are aiming to land extra Tokyo Olympics berths, in wrestling, athletics and rowing. Besides, there are international events like archery, shooting, badminton and hockey.

On Wednesday, International Hockey Federation (FIH) postponed Pro League matches between Great Britain and India, scheduled on May 8-9 in London. “This follows the recent decision by the UK Government to add India to the red list of countries due to the current status of the Covid-19 pandemic. FIH, Hockey India and Great Britain Hockey are monitoring the evolution of the situation in the hope of rearranging these matches…,” the world body said in a statement.

The men’s hockey team that was building momentum after beating Olympic champions Argentina recently, will keep fingers crossed. They are scheduled to travel to Europe next month for Pro League matches against Spain (May 15-16) and Germany (May 22-23).

Besides the UK, US, Singapore and New Zealand have also imposed fresh restrictions on travellers from India. Hong Kong has suspended flights from India.

The rowers have the Asian and Oceania Continental Olympic Qualification Regatta in Tokyo from May 5 to 7. The Rowing Federation of India is struggling to get visas for Japan due to the lockdown in Delhi.

“We got the permission to submit visa application on Monday night and at the time the lockdown happened, so our papers are stuck with a travel agent. Hopefully, tomorrow we will be able to retrieve it and give it in person. It is causing some anxiety,” said Rowing Federeration of India presidentRajlaxmi Singh Deo.

It is one of the few events happening in Tokyo before the Olympics and teams have been asked to confirm a checklist before reaching there on April 30 for a three-day strict quarantine. “We have to do intensive reporting from our end to them. I don’t know whether we will be able to meet everything. They need lab reports in a certain format and I am not sure in the current state the labs can do it.

“They must be anxious in receiving the Indian team as a few countries have put a bar on travel from India,” she said.

A total of 14 rowers will compete in the event. The women’s team is training in Bhopal and the men’s team is based in Pune. “It is not an easy time for any athlete. As visas come we will keep our fingers crossed and hope the flights are on.”

The wrestlers have their last qualification tournament in Sofia, Bulgaria, from May 6. India are yet to assure three qualification berths each in men’s and women’s freestyle events, besides all six berths in Greco-Roman. “We will keep our fingers crossed till we reach there. For the Asia qualifying event in Almaty, we had to take a long route and we reached there hours before the tournament,” said women’s chief coach Kuldeep Malik.

In track and field, a 20-member squad, including sprinters Hima Das and Dutee Chand, is due to compete in the World Athletics Relays in Silesia, Poland on May 1 and 2. It will be the first major international event for the sprinters since the Doha Asian Athletics Championships in April 2019. After the meet, they plan to travel to Turkey for training.

“We have applied for visas and expect them to be cleared in a few days. The team will reach there on April 29 and depart on May 3,” said an athletics federation official.

The shooters plan to travel to Croatia in the first week of May for the European Championships in MQS. “We are taking it one day at a time. We will follow the advice of the government,” said a top shooting federation official.

The shuttlers too will keep a close watch on travel restrictions with the Malaysia Open scheduled from May 25-30. The India Open in New Delhi from May 11 has been postponed.

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