The Athletics Federation of India (AFI) has issued Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) for AFI athletes, coaches and support staff at the national camps. The SOP has been prepared with focus on the current environment characterized by pandemic (COVID-19). While issuing the SOP on May 18, 2020, AFI noted alongside that although as of that date, there have been relaxations in the rules and regulations of the ongoing nationwide lockdown, athletes, coaches and support staff are strictly advised to remain inside the protected environment of national camps at Patiala and Bengaluru.
Besides the SOP, the periodic guidelines issued by the central and state governments must also be followed. “ The re-opening of training facilities including outdoor training and weight training will be as per the programme schedule circulated by the Chief Coach,’’ the circular on SOP, available on the website of AFI, said.
According to it, athletes should not go for training if they have any flu-like symptoms such as sneezing, coughing, difficulty in breathing, fatigue etc or if they have been in close contact with someone who showed above-mentioned flu-like symptoms or tested positive for COVID-19 in the past 14 days. They should inform the Chief Coach / Deputy Chief Coach or HPD about any sickness or if they have come in contact with any sick person. They should not also go for training if the training has been cancelled by the coach or center in-charge due to unavoidable circumstances.
Before they go for training, athletes should be aware of their timings for outdoor training and weight training session; they should speak to their coach, group athletes before leaving their room so that everyone is present at the venue on time and there is no delay. They should leave their room exactly five minutes before their scheduled training. Use of disposable gloves by athletes is highly recommended. For relay athletes practising baton exchange, use of hand gloves is mandatory. Athletes should always wear full sleeve T-shirts, tights and shirts whenever they step out of the room
During training they should maintain a safe and isolated distance of minimum two meters from others while walking to the training ground and during the training. They should carry their own water bottle, energy drink etc. as well as their own personal hand sanitizer, paper napkins, towels. They should not exercise / train / walk in groups; they should not take the help of other athletes / coaches. They should not shake hands or hug other athletes, coaching staff members and at any point of time if they feel ill, they should immediately report to their coach, support staff. Athletes should avoid using public toilets as far as they can; they should not sneeze or cough without covering their mouth and nose. They should not spit on the ground. They should always use dustbins to throw any waste such as empty water bottles, paper napkins etc. They should not call any person from outside to the training area or en route to training area / hostel / dining hall.
After training, they should apply their own personal hand sanitizer. They should check their belongings carefully and make sure it has not been touched by others. Similarly, they shouldn’t touch anything that does not belong to them. They should go back to their hostel room as soon as their training is over and not hang around in groups. They should take shower immediately upon reaching their room put used clothes for washing and not wear the same clothes after shower. Sauna / ice bath facilities will not be available during the restricted training phase. They should relax and re-asses their health after sometime, report to their coach or administration immediately if they feel sick. They should keep their personal hygiene level high at all times, not take on mental stress and keep in touch with their families, friends remotely through mobile phones, video conferencing.
Referring to safe use of exercise equipment, the SOP said that athletes should use such equipment cautiously. All handheld implements should be sanitized prior to and after use e.g. shots, javelins, discus etc. Upon conclusion of training, equipment should be cleaned with a disinfectant spray. “ Although there is no specific evidence that equipment can spread COVID-19, we know that contamination from respiratory droplets from an infected person can potentially survive on hard surfaces for up to three days,’’ the SOP said.
On coaches, the SOP noted that respective coaches will be responsible for maintaining social distancing. Clean and disinfected equipment should be used during training sessions and the supply and requirement of disinfectants must be reported in time to the Chief Coach. “ The coaching sessions following proper protocol will be supervised by Chief Coach, Deputy Chief Coach & High-Performance Director,’’ the SOP said adding that persons other than those already in the camps are strictly barred from access to the training area.
As for dealing with the outside world, the SOP said that social distancing should be maintained at all times. Athletes must try to clean their rooms themselves and not leave their hostel rooms except for training / medical / rehab purposes. Visit to barbershops /saloons / beauty parlors / shopping malls is strictly prohibited. They should not eat outside or order food parcels. They should wear a mask before leaving their room; carry a small bottle of hand sanitizer if visiting ATMs and use sanitizer after operating the ATM machine. They should avoid touching parcels / letters delivered to them and always sanitize such articles before any contact. They should try not to touch any surfaces and if they do, they should sanitize their hands as soon as possible.
The SOP made it clear that athletes are not allowed to leave the camps. Any leave from the camp can only be sanctioned by the AFI President / Chairman, Planning Committee. Athletes leaving the camp will have to go through 14 days of quarantine before rejoining.
AFI has said that the SOP will be updated and circulated again depending on changes to the COVID-19 control scenario.
(The author, Shyam G Menon, is a freelance journalist based in Mumbai.)