‘Not in the mood to compete, we are fighting for survival right now’
Top athletes talk to HT about their experience of dealing with the Covid-19 pandemic. This is Pankaj Advani, the 23-time world billiards and snooker champion who, days before the nationwide lockdown was announced, won his 34th national title in Ahmedabad last month.Updated: Apr 30, 2020 21:02 IST
It’s definitely going to be quite a while, probably months, before we can get back to competitive sport. But as a professional sportsperson and someone who has represented India for 20 years, I’m personally not in the mood to compete right now with everything that is going on. Obviously, I miss playing billiards and snooker. I feel like going on the table and playing a few shots but to be honest, I’m not in a mood to compete at all. It’s very unfortunate with what’s happening in the world—so many people dying, so many people suffering, hunger being a major issue, daily wage earners not able to make ends meet. It’s a tough time for the human race.
Of course, we can look at it positively and say that it has given us time to pause, and we’ve given the environment a little space to breathe. But it is sad that quite a bit of the human race has been affected by this pandemic.
While personally sport has played a huge role in shaping me as a human being, I also feel that there is always more to life than sport. How much ever it occupies our life, how much ever we are consumed by it, the number of hours we devote to it or the intensity with which we train and compete, all of that is secondary when it comes to health, safety and survival. We are actually fighting for survival at this stage.
To give you an analogy, this situation is like a sporting contest. We’re fighting the virus; coronavirus is our opponent. The weakness of this virus is if we follow physical distancing and maintain decent levels of hygiene. Washing hands, wearing masks, covering our mouths when we cough or sneeze—these are the rules set by the authorities, which in this case is the government and WHO. So now we’re in this match with the virus and we have these rules. If we play by them, if we are disciplined and committed to following the rules and exploiting the weakness of the opponent, then we can defeat our opponent. This is the sport we’re playing right now. And it involves the entire human race. Nobody is spared—whether you’re rich, poor, white, black or the prime minister of a country—it doesn’t discriminate between any person.
Here is a fight in which all of us are on the same side. We can put all our petty and stupid differences aside. We fight between communities, on the basis of religion, caste, creed, colour—there are so many things on the basis of which we differentiate between fellow humans. We have so many issues, arguments and fights, which leads to a lot of negativity that only pulls us down. Now here is a chance to put all those petty differences and divisions aside and say, ‘Okay, let’s fight this together’. The lesson that we should learn from this—eventually once we get out of it—is that we should live in more peace and harmony with one another. This fight has taught us the importance of being considerate to our fellow human being, and that’s something that we have missed in all these years.
I was back home in Bengaluru on March 12, a day after winning the (National 6-Red Snooker Championship) title in Ahmedabad. I felt since I’ve won, I’ll take three-four days off and then go back to practice. On March 15, I was supposed to go to the Karnataka State Billiards Association to resume training, only to find out that it had been shut. It was around this time I realised that this was going to get really serious. After finishing any tournament, I usually come back home and take it easy for the first two-three days; just that now those two-three days have become 40-50 days and there might still be another 40-50 days to go!
But it’s the best time to learn something new. For example, I’ve started following a little bit of the stock markets now, just to understand what impact all of this has on our economy, study a little bit about the stocks, its ups and downs and the volatility of the markets.
I’ve also started doing the sweeping and mopping work at home. It’s just a different way of life. As sportspersons, we learn to adapt and accept situations. So even though this is a very unusual situation for us, it is time for us to accept that this is the new normal and find ways to keep ourselves engaged. More importantly, assess what our priorities are; because at the moment, I feel our priorities are definitely not sport or our careers, irrespective of the field you’re in.
Sport-wise, I’m completely switched off right now. I don’t have a table at home and I don’t have access to one right now. Yes, there are times I feel like taking out the cue and going on the dining table and just taking imaginary shots. I also at times clean my cue because two-three months down the line when I need it again, it has to be in good condition! I walk a bit at home, do a bit of exercises, but it’s not with the same intensity as it was before.
I watch a bit of TV shows. Reading (is something) I haven’t done too much of, but I’ll start soon. We’re so used to living out of a suitcase that we hardly get any time to spend with family. This has been a great time to bond with the family, look out for one another by helping in household chores or going out and buying essentials, which I hadn’t done for the longest time before the lockdown. These are the things that we took for granted, but now we have to do all of it on our own. It’s bringing out a new side in us, we’re learning new things, learning how to adapt and also being useful at home.
In a way, it’s good to get back to the basics, reassess and hopefully come back stronger and more spiritually inclined.
As told to Rutvick Mehta