Top shuttlers Ashwini Ponnappa and Lakshya Sen are among 20-odd Indian players who have started training at the Prakash Padukone Badminton Academy (PPBA) in Bengaluru as the sport took its first step towards resumption after the COVID-19 hiatus.
Confined to their homes for more than two months due to the nationwide lockdown to contain the health crisis, the shuttlers started training at PPBA after the Sports Authority of India (SAI) laid down rules for the resumption of training late last month.
"Some top national players have been training for last two weeks here. We have 16 courts spread out and about 20 India players are currently practising here. We have separate timings and sessions," Vimal Kumar, head coach and director, PPBA told PTI.
"Most of the trainees out of the total 65 are currently not in the city but they are very keen to come and start training," he added.
Vimal said training is optional at this stage.
"We have sent out a mail that they should come in batches of 6 or 10 as they have to go through two weeks of home quarantine.
"People coming from Maharashtra need to go through institutional quarantine so we have asked them to avoid that. We are not forcing anyone to come."
The players who are currently training include doubles exponent Ashwini, a three-time Commonwealth Games medallist, former world no 13 Ajay Jayaram, and Lakshya, who had a stellar season with five titles last year.
Besides, India regulars Mithun Manjunath, BM Rahul Bharadwaj and Maisnam Meiraba are also training there.
The former India coach said being away from the game for such a long time has likely affected the sharpness of the top players and they will need around six weeks to get going.
"For the elite players, it will be very tough for them because in these 2-3 months, they must have lost 30-40 per cent of their sharpness, the overall level would have dropped. It will take them a month and a half to get back into good shape," he said.
Vimal said initially the players will be focusing on endurance and working on their reflexes.
"The players have been following fitness programs so they are not totally unfit but badminton involves a lot of skill so their reflexes can go down due to the lockdown. So they will be building on physical strength and endurance," he said.
"There are no tournaments in sight right now but they have to train presuming that they can play in September. It is an opportunity as you can build their base, plan systematically during this break."
The 57-year-old also doesn't see Hyderabad Open Super 100 tournament happening in August but he is happy that Badminton World Federation (BWF) has come up with a revised calender with a mention of the event as it gives hope to the players.
"I don't see Hyderabad Open happening in August but BWF is at least trying and they have made a mention like that. It gives a lot of positivity to the players, they can look at that and prepare but whether the event will happen, it depends on a lot of factors," he said.
Asked what are the safety protocols that are in place at PPBA, which is within the Padukone-Dravid Centre of Excellence, Vimal said he doesn't believe in too much policing but they have taken certain measures.
"When they come, their temperatures are taken at the gate. We don't allow any visitors, so everything is fine, it is just that the swimming pools and gyms are not accessible right now," he said.
"But we don't want to be policing our players. I keep telling the youngsters to take the responsibility to take care of themselves, not to mix with anyone. They have all been given instructions to maintain the best hygiene and get on with it.
"I have told them clearly if one gets cold or falls sick, whole program gets stalled, so all have to be responsible."
Vimal also feels sports shouldn't be clubbed with recreation.
"In India, sports in not a priority, it doesn't get a mention anywhere. It shouldn't be combined with recreation. Sportspeople have responsibility, health really matters in sports, they are responsible and they can take care, so they have to be allowed," he said.
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