Pramod Bhagat. (Pramod Bhagat/Instagram)
Pramod Bhagat. (Pramod Bhagat/Instagram)

India’s para shuttlers eye Tokyo with hope despite pandemic pangs

  • Managing funds and at least four cartridges of shuttles needed daily are part of the tasks at the camp.
By Sharad Deep, Lucknow
UPDATED ON APR 29, 2021 08:55 PM IST

Excellia School in a township on the outskirts of Lucknow is a restricted area nowadays as the Tokyo Olympics-bound Indian para-badminton players train in a bio-bubble here. Their national camp at the Uttar Pradesh Badminton Academy campus was suspended due to a spike in Covid-19 cases, forcing them to switch camp.

Thermal scanning, hand sanitisation and steam inhalation for the 20-odd shuttlers and support staff thrice a day is part of the routine. “This is our bio-secure bubble since training at the UP Badminton Academy was suspended. We didn’t want to discontinue our preparations for Tokyo,” the team’s chief coach Gaurav Khanna said on Thursday. “We had a similar system even last year when the pandemic struck and we faced the lockdown.”

Managing funds and at least four cartridges of shuttles needed daily are part of the tasks at the camp. Three flats have been rented in the township for the campers.

“Besides six Tokyo-bound players, there are others too. A few are locals but as part of the bio-bubble no one is allowed to go home. We don’t want anybody to break the bubble. Everyone’s safety is my top priority,” said Khanna.

“The school is closed due to the spike in corona cases, so there is no disturbance to our training.”

The shuttlers include 2019 Para world championship winner and world No.11 in SL3 category Pramod Bhagat.

“Here at this centre, we have all facilities for top class training with four courts. Within 15 days, we will have all other modern facilities like sauna, Jacuzzi, etc.,” said Khanna, who has been national coach since 2014.

This isn’t the first time para-shuttlers have set up their own training centre.

Before even the national camp was sanctioned, the shuttlers were training at the Uttar Pradesh government-run Guru Gobind Singh Sports College.

Last month, Indian para-shuttlers won 20 medals at the Dubai Para Badminton International 2021.

“Two of our shuttlers are on the verge of qualifying for the Tokyo Games. If they make it, there will be eight from India,” said Khanna.

Travel restrictions put in place by countries due to the Covid-19 surge in India means the squad won’t travel to Spain for an international event before Tokyo. “It’s our last international outing before the Olympics, but due to tough travel protocols, we are unable to travel to Spain. We had plans to leave on Friday.

“Now, we are focused on our preparations for Tokyo,” said Khanna, who also targets success for India at the BWF Para Badminton World Championships in October.

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