Fans are the life of a sporting arena. Fans motivate players to do better. A stadium has no life without fans in the stands. The start of the German football league, Bundesliga, behind closed doors showed exactly that and table tennis star Sanil Shetty feels the same.
Coronavirus Pandemic forced the world of sports to come to a standstill for a nearly three months now, and it doesn't look like normalcy will return anytime soon.
As sporting authorities around the world are busy chalking out plans for resumption, table tennis is also trying to find its way around the pandemic. With consistent travel involved in the sport, coronavirus restrictions make it difficult to devise a set plan. However, at the local level, table tennis is beginning to take shape and Germany is taking the lead again.
The German table tennis league is set to begin without audience and Sanil, who trains in Germany, said he has been hearing from his friends how 'boring' it was without an audience.
"It's just one room and you're put inside it to play. Sports is full of emotions so without the audience it will be boring. Players get their energy from the audience at times," Sanil explained in an exclusive conversation with News18.com.
He went on to cite his own example of how when he walks out to the arena to play in the Ultimate Table Tennis (UTT) league, he feels pumped because there fans people cheering. For a local tournament, on the other hand, it is simply about going and playing.
"I think that will be missing, the extra effort that you put for the audience," Sanil said, adding that in the end, at least they are starting something.
IS RESUMPTION POSSIBLE IN INDIA?
On Thursday, the Sports Authority of India released the Standard Operating Procedure (SOP), stating clear guidelines for the resumption of sports. Back on May 17, with Lockdown 4.0 coming in place, sporting stadiums and complexes were opened for practice.
With this development, Table Tennis Federation of India (TTFI) intimated the top players of the country to gauge their views about holding a camp in either Patiala or Bengaluru. However, the players were apprehensive with the environment still unsafe.
Mainly everybody has that fear (of catching Covid-19) you know so most of the players will say no (to training)
Shetty said he is locked down in Pune and in Maharashtra, even road travel is prohibited due to the high number of active coronavirus cases. Even Sharath Kamal said in an interview that it was too early to start.
Shetty further explained that all the players are now starting to set up their temporary practice centres and they will all be more comfortable staying in the safety net of their homes and practicing.
"Like Sathiyan (Gnanasekaran) has a robot at home and has a coach there. Sharath also started training with his brother. Even Harmeet and Manav have tables. Mainly everybody has that fear you know so most of the players will say no," Sanil said.
THE LINGERING FEAR
He mentioned that till there is a vaccine in place, players will always have the fear of catching Covid-19, "How much ever precautions you take, just one thing can change that."
Shetty explained how he and table tennis player and his wife Reeth Rishya have been doing all the household chores and have not called the maid because they can't risk it with his mother, who is over 60 years old. The 30-year-old also shared that she is bed-ridden and is already sick.
"Dad is trying to come back but even when he does, I have to see that for 14 days he has to stay away from my mother. Now anywhere you go, you are going to be thinking a lot - be it going to a mall or to a cinema hall," he said.
ITTF has announced that no doubles will be played this year. However, Shetty feels that eliminates a lot of people who were preparing for the Olympics.
"They were working so hard for mixed doubles and suddenly now you're saying it will not happen at all. So somewhere down the line, it is demotivating for the players."
He then exhaled, "There's nothing you can do. They are also thinking for the players that they should be safe."
(Photo Credit: Reuters)
DISRUPTION IN PRACTICE
The Mumbai-born player does not have a table at home and only with the recent relaxation, he has been able to order one, which he would receive by Monday. For the past two months, he has only been doing fitness training, meditation, yoga and shadow practice.
However, Shetty, ranked 247 in the world in singles, is excited that he is soon going to have a table at home and with a table tennis player in his wife, practice becomes easy.
He and his wife even tried using the dining table to practice, but due to the mirror-finish of the table, there was no bounce and hence, they had to resort to shadow practicing.
With Reeth still going through the rehabilitation phase after a knee injury, Shetty is also contemplating ordering a robot like Sathiyan.
He further shared that his society clubhouse has a TT table, but the society authorities refused to give it to him.
"They said that if they give the table to me, other people will ask for different things. So I understood that.
"I explained them everything (that I'm an international player and I need one for practice), but that's okay. I can't go against the management committee. Anyway, rules are the same for everybody, so it's okay. I think it's better to follow the rules."
He said that the lockdown has been mentally difficult and he has had negative feeling at times because he hasn't been able to play. But he is trying to stay motivated with his fitness routine.
"I don't want to see myself getting tired in just 30 minutes of play time. Hence, I'm working a lot on my fitness. When I start playing, I want to play for three to four hours continuously."
ROADBLOCK IN OLYMPIC DREAMS
Shetty said the Indian team's Olympic plans have been disrupted especially because the new ranking system is such that it changes every 12 months. Players are losing their points from the previous year for which they worked extremely hard.
He cited Sathiyan example that he wanted to maintain his ranking in Top 30 ahead of the Olympics so that he could directly play Round of 32 there. But now all that hard work of his is gone and he has to make fresh efforts to maintain his ranking till next year.
"Since the team ranking was not up, it was all on individual ranking and so everyone wanted to play more and more tour matches. So everyone was planning to prepare according.
"Sathiyan had a plan to go to Japan for the league and practice with them. Sharath and I had planned to go to Germany so everyone's plans were disturbed. Ochensheausn started their training but Harmeet cannot go now and he had a brilliant year last year. Suddenly now there's a long gap whereas otherwise in two months he would have improved a lot," he shared.
Shetty said the group of top men's players have been staying in touch and discussing their future plans on alternate days.
He further said due to his job in Bharat Petroleum, he has not been hit economically. He said there have been no cuts and his salary has been coming on time, for which he is extremely thankful.