The outbreak of the COVID-19 across the world has taken a major toll on the sports ecosystem. Big-ticket tournaments to even domestic events have either been shelved or been postponed indefinitely. In India as well, the pandemic is taking a havoc shape. Like other sports, swimming has been affected and the facilities and academies have come to a standstill. In an exclusive conversation with Arjuna awardee Olympic swimmer Nisha Millet, who runs the Nisha Millet Swimming Academy in Bengaluru, the swimmer explains how the sport has been affected owing to the virus.
The COVID-19 pandemic has upended all areas of life and sports is no exception. The social distancing measures, brought in to limit the spread of coronavirus, have had a significant effect on all the sporting facilities – Swimming platforms are also facing the effect.
“Due to this pandemic, the Karnataka Government has ordered a complete shutdown of multisport facilities including all the swimming facilities, until further notice. This has made an impact cause all the competitions and activities are completely on hold. As a part of the infrastructure, the pool water filtration needs to go on despite there being no activity. So, it is a bit of concern for all of us. Also, the revenue aspect of the facility is affected cause almost 60% of the revenue comes from the summer classes. But due to this lockdown period, it seems a bit difficult,” says Millet.
In 1997 and 1999, Nisha was named ‘best sportswoman’ by the Prime Minister of India. In 2000, she became the first Indian swimmer to qualify for the Olympics in the 200-metre freestyle and represented India at the Sydney Olympics. She has also represented the country in multiple platforms, such as World Swimming Championships, the Asian Games, the South Asian Games and the Australian Nationals.
After 2004, she completely devoted herself to teaching. Since then, through the Nisha Millet Swimming Academy, she has been passing on her skills and knowledge to all the generations of swimmers.
This lockdown period has definitely made an impact on swimmers, especially on their training part and the mental aspect. But there are always a positive side of a situation, especially for the top Indian swimmers like Sajan Prakash and Srihari Nataraj etc.
“The lockdown period has given us an ample amount of time for the physical training and it is a great opportunity for the TOKYO 2020 qualifiers to train for a higher mark, as Indian swimmers have never qualified for the A-mark. So, it gives them an ambition to train harder and achieve better. One year is an extra boost for those who are very close to achieve the A-level. But due to this lockdown, cardio training is difficult, as one cannot go outside. So, we are advising alternatives like stair training, which can help them at a certain level,” says Millet.
COVID-19 is putting the global economy into a tailspin. Many countries are heading for very sudden and unprecedented recession. This crisis will catalyze some huge changes. Few industries will avoid being either reformed, restructured or removed. The sports ecosystem has also now encountering the economic challenge and having an own academy always come with a cost – from employees to equipment, the list goes long.
“With the economy taking a hit, sponsors have pulled out. For the sportsperson, the funding is important for them to train abroad and participate in the competition, and for swimming, there are very few companies who sponsor. This is demotivating for the swimmers but once the economy is back on track, hopefully, everything will fall into place,” says Millet.
This long break is also affecting the mental health of the athletes, and it is no exception for swimmers. Millet explains, “Regarding mental health, the younger generation is definitely doing better than the elder ones. They are spending time in cooking, studying, training and learning new things. With the elder ones, we are trying to boost their mental level, and the coaches are constantly in touch with them. We are trying to help as much as we can. It is difficult for all of us, so staying together and helping each other is all we can do.”
Keeping this epidemic in mind, every facility will try keeping their hygiene level high. Nisha concludes, “We are definitely planning to take precautions, and we have two things in mind for now. First, is reducing the number of people that gather at any given time, so the chances of the virus spreading will be minimized. Second, is dividing the pool into four or more lanes, so one lane will be dedicated to one kid only. Simultaneously, we will be asking the coaches to look after the kids’ health, and if there are any signs of sneezing and/or cold, we will train them separately from the others to avoid the contact. We can only do our bit of the effort and look forward to and hope for the better outcome.”