Priority is health, we can talk sports later: Gopichand

Staying positive and fit is national badminton coach Pullela Gopichand's advice to his students for pulling through the ongoing three-week lockdown in the country amid the coronavirus pandemic.

The Indian badminton contingent would have been in the home stretch of its preparations for the Tokyo Olympics. Instead, the players and coaches are at their respective homes, with the Olympics itself more than a year away after its unprecedented postponement in March.

Gopichand on Monday joined the multitude of celebrities who made monetary contributions towards the fight against coronavirus in the country -- he donated Rs 15 lakh to the PM-CARES Fund and Rs 5 lakh each to the Andhra Pradesh and Telangana state governments. He knows that he is one of those in the country to not be too affected by the current crisis.

"I am just spending time with the family. Doing my bits of yoga and meditation and trying to maintain a fitness regime apart from interacting with the players. I'm using the time well and not complaining about the lockdown at all," Gopichand told IANS.

"The people who are struggling are the daily wagers and agricultural farmers who don't have a saved income in hand. There is definitely a lot of them who will be suffering and it is our responsibility to take care of them. For the rest of us who are from the middle-class, it's okay. It's just a few months out of your life and careers can come back once things get back to normal."

The students of the Gopichand Badminton Academy may be confined to their homes but they are connected to the 46-year-old and his staff through the Zoom App. Gopichand said that fitness trainer Dinaz Vervatwala takes two sessions a day for the students on the app which the students follow and report back their results.

He tells his more high profile students, especially those that are chasing Olympic qualification, to see this period as a blessing and spend as much time as they can with their families.

"For most athletes who have been part of sport for a while, they realise that injuries are a part of it and every time they are injured, they've probably been out for a couple of months. So they could just treat this as a long injury break," said Gopichand.

The Badminton World Federation (BWF) said on Tuesday that all tournaments till July have been suspended. Gopichand said that the fact that the Olympics has been postponed by a year means that for now, he doesn't have to worry about the effect this break will have on qualification chances.

"We don't have tournaments at least for the next three months. We are looking at tournaments only around August or September. Let's see how long this lockdown continues and how quickly we can get back to our normal lives and then decide. For now we have three weeks of lockdown which I think is okay.

"If the Olympics were postponed only by a few months I would have been concerned about players' practice but since it's a year we still have time. It is the same situation for most players around the world so it's an even playground. Right now the priority is the health of our friends, family, society and the

country and so we can decide later about sports."

The BWF has been under fire for most of last month, with much of the criticism coming from stars of the sport they govern, for its reluctance to act despite coronavirus being declared a pandemic by the World Health Organisation (WHO) and rapidly spreading on a global scale. Gopichand said that all the uncertainty and brickbats could have been avoided had they acted a little quicker.

"They tried to push it a little, three days before the Swiss Open we were not sure if it is happening or not," said Gopichand adding that the Indian athletes, and players from other countries, were simply lucky that they came back from the All England Open unscathed considering the situation in the United Kingdom now.

The Tokyo Olympics will now start on July 23. Coronavirus had started taking a toll on qualification tournaments as early as February and those that have been postponed will need to be held before the new start date. Gopichand admitted that it will be a complicated process with the players' travel plans and visas also needing to be finalised before they go anywhere for tournaments.

"I don't think we are getting back to normalcy very quickly. Even when we do we will need to give about a month and a half for visas, travel arrangements and scheduling.

"I would say let's just stay positive and as fit as we can be. Players always complain that they don't have time to do certain things at home and so let's use this time to do all that. This is a problem much bigger than sport. It has not spared any nation, so we need to take it one step at a time," he said.

He however also said that anything can be said on the new dates only when the updated qualification cycle is declared. The International Olympic Committee has set a qualification deadline of June 29, 2021 and left it to the international federations to decide on the new pathways.

"It was something that was unexpected, completely out of anybody's control. Let the new qualification paths come in and then we can decide," he said.   - IANS