India’s Tokyo-bound sailors pray for smooth passage to train in Europe

ByRutvick Mehta, Mumbai
May 14, 2021 12:36 PM IST

Three of the country’s four sailors to qualify for the Olympics have completed travel formalities but hope the Covid situation does not worsen before their departure.

“Hopefully it all works out and we’ll get there. Touchwood,” KC Ganapathy said. That’s all he can do for now.

Nethra Kumanan.
Nethra Kumanan.

Amid rapid developments of a number of countries closing their borders for travel from India, the country’s Olympics-bound sailors are hoping to get into Europe in time to establish their training base ahead of the Tokyo Games in July-August.

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Ganapathy and Varun Thakkar, the 2018 Asian Games bronze medal-winning 49er pair, are set to fly to Portugal on May 20 after receiving approval from the embassy under the “essential travel” exemption.

Nethra Kumanan, the first Indian woman sailor to qualify for the Olympics after making the grade in the Laser Radial event, has booked her tickets for Monday to reach Gran Canaria, with the Spanish island (so far, at least) allowing Indians entry with a 10-day quarantine. Vishnu Saravanan, who will compete in the Laser Standard event in Tokyo, has already shifted base to Malta. “He went beforehand, he was smart,” Captain Jitendra Dixit, Yachting Association of India's (YAI) joint secretary general, said.

The training stints of the four—they were drafted into the Target Olympic Podium Scheme (TOPS) after sealing their Tokyo berths at the Mussanah Open Championship in Oman last month—were approved by the Mission Olympic Cell (MOC) on Friday.

Ganapathy and Thakkar had picked the waters off Cascais—a picturesque coastal town near Lisbon—as an ideal place to train ahead of the Olympics. “Six to seven teams who have already qualified are training in Portugal and we intend to join them,” Thakkar said a few days ago in an interaction organised by the Sports Authority of India.

But keeping in mind the travel restrictions on Indians due as the country is in the middle of a second wave of Covid-19, they had a back-up—Rameswaram, where the duo had trained during the lockdown months last year.

India is Portugal's restricted entry list, from where it allows passengers only on “essential travel” after producing a negative RT-PCR test certificate. After the Portuguese embassy cleared their visas under the specific category and the MOC’s approval came through, Ganapathy and Thakkar were relieved. Not entirely though as things can still unravel quickly before their departure.

“We plan to leave on May 20, and as of now we’re set to go,” Ganapathy said. “We’ve got the letter from the embassy that says we are on essential work. We should be able to go, unless something changes with all these restrictions and countries closing borders.”

They will train in Cascais with their coach Ian Stuart Warren, who has played a key role in their Tokyo qualification. But first, Portugal mandates a 14-day isolation period for those entering from India “at home or in a place indicated by the health authorities… .” Ganapathy wasn’t sure if that would be relaxed as both sailors have got their vaccinations. “There is going to be quarantine. But it also depends on the health officer there. We’ll see what happens once we get there. In any case, we are prepared to start training in the first week of June and we’ll get a full month of training,” he said.

Kumanan too is mentally prepared for a 10-day stay in her room in Gran Canaria. “I booked my flight for May 10 and am flying as of now,” she said.

The 23-year-old returned home to Chennai after a year last month, having spent most of 2020 at the Sailing Academy Gran Canaria under coach Tamas Eszes and then competed in the Oman qualifying event. She is eager to get back to training ahead of her first Olympics. She knows she may not be able to return to India before the Games. “If the situation is too bad, I will go directly,” she said.

With the Yatching Association of Indian assisting with the visa work and helping get approvals, Captain Dixit has his fingers crossed on the three sailors reaching their European destinations without hassle. “Every paper is in place; the only issue now is that Covid should not stop them from moving,” he said. “The problem is the situation is so dynamic and everything is changing day-to-day. We’re hoping it all works out.”

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