MAHARASHTRA ALLOWS POOLS FOR COMPETITION SWIMMERS TO REOPEN

Illustration: Shyam G Menon

Maharashtra has allowed the reopening of swimming pools meant to train competition swimmers.

“ As per the latest government guidelines, swimming pools used for training of state-, national and international-level sportspersons and located outside containment zones can operate from November 5,’’ a PTI report dated November 4, 2020 said. “ I am very happy and I know all swimmers across the state are very happy with this decision. We have been waiting for seven months and we can’t wait to get in the pool and start training,’’ Virdhawal Khade, national record holder and among best known competition swimmers from Maharashtra, said.  He expressed gratitude to the government for its decision.

Among sports, swimming had been one of the worst hit as lockdown and pandemic totally cut off access to pools. On September 30, 2020, the central government had allowed select swimming pools – qualified as those used to train “ sportspersons” – to reopen as part of Unlock 5, effective from October 1. The final decision was to be taken by the states. In subsequent unlock guidelines at the state level, Maharashtra had continued to remain cautious and avoided reopening pools. That is what has changed now. “ The state government’s decision will certainly be a relief for elite swimmers from Maharashtra. It will help them train and perform well at competitions,’’ former national record holder in swimming, Sebastian Xavier, currently stationed in Mumbai as Senior Sports Officer, Western Railway, said. Besides swimming pools meant to train elite swimmers, yoga institutes, indoor sports facilities such as badminton halls, tennis, squash courts and indoor shooting ranges have also been allowed to function from November 5, the PTI report said. Physical distancing and sanitization must be ensured, the accompanying guidelines said.

“ This means a lot,’’ Zarir Balliwala, President, Greater Mumbai Amateur Aquatics Association (GMAAA), said about the state government’s decision to reopen pools meant to train elite swimmers. He pointed out that competition swimmers had been without access to pools for the past 6-7 months. “ It makes us hopeful that by next April we may be able to get district level competitions underway,’’ he said. However between the decision to reopen and training getting underway in a systematic fashion for elite swimmers, there could be a teething phase. This is because prior to pandemic and lockdown, competition swimmers trained at pools of their choice, some of which were privately owned facilities. There is no guarantee that pools will cater to a limited number of competition swimmers. Their maintenance cost may be unsustainable at reduced traffic. Which pools elite swimmers should go to – this has to now emerge though discussion and consensus in the swimming community.

Pune based-open water swimmer Rohan More has crossed several channels and straits worldwide; he was awarded the Tenzing Norgay National Adventure Award for 2017. An IT engineer, Rohan’s work hours varies in accordance with the hours of work of clients overseas. In the more relaxed and less regimented life before lockdown when pools offered various time slots to train, he could easily find a slot that suited him. He wondered if similar flexibility may be available in the new normal; he wasn’t also sure yet which pools in town may cater to elite swimmers under the new unlock guidelines. Still, the government’s decision to reopen pools meant for training competition swimmers is a promising start, he said.

Navi Mumbai-based Shubham Vanmali was among those who highlighted pretty early in the lockdown that the loss to swimmers from the closure of pools is hard to compensate. At heart it is access to water denied and water, besides being medium for swimming is also therapeutic. An accomplished open water swimmer with channel crossings to his credit, Shubham had turned to dry land exercises to stay fit. “ Such workouts, while useful cannot make up for the loss of access to water,’’ Shubham said.  After six months of no swimming, in October, Shubham gained access to a resort some distance from Khopoli that had an adjacent water body about 50-70 meters long, wherein the water was also flowing and not stagnant. He occasionally swam there. He also went to his native place – Kasa near Dahanu – and swam in rivers and lakes there. His initial moments in water were a reminder of what happened to endurance swimmer during lockdown. “ I could feel how heavy I was in the water. I was dragging so much surface area. My body was also stiff and therefore prone to injury. I swam slowly. I did stretches and exercises to rehabilitate my shoulders,’’ he said.

“ Personally I think it will be an uphill for all,’’ Zarir said of the road to fitness and peak condition that lay ahead for Maharashtra’s competition swimmers. But for now the feeling is one of relief and gratitude.

(The author, Shyam G Menon, is a freelance journalist based in Mumbai.)             

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