Sports Authority says they can provide quarantine facilities for more than 2000 people
With the Covid-19 pandemic spreading in the country and the limited medical facilities available, sports stadiums across India could be turned into quarantine centres. The Sports Authority of India (SAI), with its vast infrastructure across the country, has already set in motion a plan to turn their hostels and stadiums into isolation facilities following a request from the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare.
As per official estimates, SAI’s 10 regional centres and five stadiums in the national capital can create quarantine facilities for more than 2,000 people. In Delhi, SAI says they can provide facilities for nearly 900 people.
Two facilities have already been handed over, SAI director-general Sandip Pradhan told HT.
“The country is fighting an extraordinary situation. We have handed over the boxing training centre at Rohtak as per the directives of the state government,” Pradhan said. “We have also earmarked 120 beds at the National Institute of Sports (NIS), Patiala. It is far from the area where our top athletes bound for the Tokyo Olympics are training. We are prepared to extend all cooperation (to the government), while keeping the health of our athletes as our topmost priority,” said Pradhan.
NIS Patiala is SAI’s main centre for elite athletes, and home to many of India’s Olympic contenders.
SC Sharma, the administrator of the Indira Gandhi indoor sports complex in New Delhi, said hostel facilities “are currently lying idle” as all training centres have been shut till March 31. “We have a 200-bed hostel facility. Only a three-member boxing team and their coaches are training for the Olympics here. In the event of an emergency, the facilities could be utilised by the government.”
Sharma, who also has charge of SAI’s regional centre in Kolkata, said, “There is a 300-bed facility within the SAI campus in Kolkata. Other centres (across India) too have hostels.”
In fact the National Stadium, home to SAI’s hockey academy, also has a 70- room facility. Chief coach of the academy, MK Kaushik, said, “Training had been suspended and it’s up to the government to use the facilities.”
The Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium, the athletics hub in the region, too has 150 beds, mainly used by top athletes during transition for international competitions besides a few more beds at the sprints/jumps and pole vault academy, which has been closed down.
Not just Delhi, even regional centres in places like Guwahati, which has 70-80 beds, could be utilised for the purpose.
The SAI centre in Mumbai, located in Kandivali, has also been put on standby.
“We have got directives that if the state government wants to utilise our premises for isolation, we will have to provide them. Authorities from the BMC (municipal body) came and inspected our premises but they said that as of now, we do not need the hostel. However, if and when they do, we will be ready,” Sushmita Jyotsi, SAI’s regional director in Mumbai, said. Jyotsi said the hostel comprises a little over 100 beds, and is currently lying vacant with the exception of two students.
However, PSM Chandran, former head of sports medicine, SAI, said, the government should be looking at hotels being run by Central and state governments rather than stadiums, which “will not be able to provide the necessary infrastructure for quarantined patients”.
“Providing stadia facilities are fine, but what will you do about so many government offices running inside the stadia? There are several government offices inside the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium (including the Income Tax department office which occupies about one lakh square feet of space). I’m not sure how they’ll manage quarantine facilities in stadia occupied by government offices,” said Chandran.
“Besides, you need staff to manage quarantined people; cater to their food requirements, other logistics. China could do it because they had the numbers and logistics. The government should be looking at hotels where currently the occupancy is less because of the pandemic. The state and Central government-run hotels, even private hotels, should offer their services voluntarily, if required.
“Besides providing comfortable stay, laundry and mess facilities, hotels provide good bathroom facilities while SAI stadia mostly have common toilets. Some stadia have miniscule (sic) toilet facilities.”
Former SAI director, Special Area Games (SAG), who is currently with the All India Council for Sports (AICS) VVSN Rao says, there would still be hundreds of athletes from remote states like Arunachal Pradesh, Andaman and Nicobar, Manipur, Mizoram among others, residing in SAI residential wings across the country. “The SAI residential wings are like their second home, where they do their schooling and training. How are you going to ensure their safe transport to the remote parts of the country in this epidemic? You also have to ensure that they don’t take the virus to their homes and villages,” says Rao.
“There are about 500 children in Tamil Nadu (SAI, SAG Training Centre, Mayiladuthurai). How will they send them back?”
But, director, SAI regional centre, Lucknow, Sanjay Saraswat said, “If the government says we will follow instructions. After receiving an order from the government, we allowed everyone (in the residential wing) to go home last Thursday as we had no mechanism to check if any athlete was infected. Our centre is ready to accept any kind of role, which the government defines,” he said.