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A year in which COVID's long shadow paused sports events globally. Pixabay

The year started with the anticipation that is characteristic of an Olympic year. This time, however, there were also rumblings of uncertainty in the background. The coronavirus pandemic had started to make itself heard outside of China and before the end of the first month of the year, major sports events started falling to the pandemic.

The Tokyo Olympics was scheduled to start on July 24 and the calendar until that date was crammed with last-minute qualifiers for a number of sports. For India, the initial blows came in the form of the Asian boxing Olympic qualifiers, which were scheduled to be held in Wuhan — the city that ended up becoming ground zero for the virus — being postponed and shifted to Amman, Jordan, and the women’s hockey team’s tour to China being canceled due to the pandemic.

Apart from the problems with holding the qualifiers, international travel restrictions and different levels of restriction on movements around the world left the organizers with little choice but to take up the unprecedented step of postponing the Olympics. The Tokyo Games will now be held from July 23 to August 8, 2021.

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To what extent the pandemic caught the organizers and stakeholders off guard is testified by the fact that on March 4 — 19 days before the International Olympic Committee (IOC), the Tokyo 2020 organizing committee, and the Japanese government announced the postponement of the Olympics — IOC president Thomas Bach was still comparing the situation to the myriad other problems that previous editions of the Olympics faced months before they started.

“We had (before the Pyeongchang 2018 Winter Games) a situation where we did not know if we could have Games on the Korean peninsula (because of tensions with North Korea). Before Rio de Janeiro 2016 we were talking about the Zika virus. Boycott discussions about Moscow in 1980, we had the counter-boycott in Los Angeles in 1984. We had a terrorist attack in Munich in 1972. We had the African boycott in 1976. You need more?” said Bach at a press conference after a two-day meeting at the organization’s headquarters.

The majority of cancellations or postponement of sports events in India came during March, including big-ticket cricket events like the ODI leg of South Africa’s tour of India and the 2020 Indian Premier League (IPL). On March 12, the Sports Ministry issued an advisory asking for all sports events to be held only if they are unavoidable and spectators won’t be allowed to any of them. The advisory was also marked to the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI), which promptly announced the postponement of the IPL. On March 19, the ministry put out another advisory calling for no sports events to be held until April 15.

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The April 15 deadline was only a temporary one and it kept extending as the government renewed the lockdown that was put down in the country on March 25 and in May, Sports Minister Kiren Rijiju said that there would be no sporting events in India for the foreseeable future.

A silence pregnant with uncertainty prevailed in the country’s sports community during this period, only pierced by virtual events involving current and former athletes and administrative issues like a turf war within the Indian Olympic Association (IOA) and National Sports Federations (NSF) losing recognition provided by the Sports Ministry due to a Delhi High Court order.

It is all about making the most of whatever 2021 has in store for them and be prepared once again for a first-ever postponed Olympics. Pixabay

Just under a week before Rijiju’s comments, however, the Sports Authority of India (SAI) issued detailed Standard Operating Procedures (SOP) for a phased resumption of sporting activities in the country, starting with training for Olympic bound athletes.

India’s top athletes were mostly housed either at the National Institute of Sport in Patiala or the SAI center in Bengaluru, Karnataka and the issuing and implementation of the SOPs meant that they could finally get out of their respective hostel rooms and do things that at least slightly resembled their normal training routines.

Want to read more in Hindi? Checkout: 22 साल में पहली बार आस्ट्रेलियन ओपन में नहीं खेलेंगे फेडरर

By the end of July, murmurs of the IPL is set to be held in the UAE started doing the rounds. With the number of infections continuing to a spike in India, the BCCI finally decided to hold the tournament in the UAE while implementing strict bio-security rules. Artificial crowd noises filled up the silence that existed in the stadiums during the broadcast as the 2020 IPL was held from September 19 to November 10.

With that, men’s international cricket also restarted for India with the team traveling to Australia for their full tour of the country right after the IPL. However, there is yet to be a concrete plan for the Indian women’s team while any form of domestic cricket tournaments will take place only in 2021.

It has been a similar case in other sports as well with international tournaments that were set to be held in India and national championships of different sports being postponed to next year. Those athletes that did get some game time under their belts did so outside the country, like badminton and tennis players who participated in tournaments once their respective sports’ international calendars restarted.

Indian boxers were taken on an extended European tour in October and they managed to participate in local tournaments in France and Italy. More importantly, the boxers could spar again once they reached Europe, something that they were not allowed to do according to the SOPs and the NIS where they were situated.

Wrestlers also got a chance to get back on to the mat at the wrestling Individual World Cup in Belgrade, Serbia, although a few of the top wrestlers chose to give the tournament a miss.

ALSO READ: Top 10 Emerging Technologies Of 2020

Preparation for an Olympics is a meticulous process with almost every month of a medal prospect accounted for during the four-year period between two Games. For many, it was this structured process that was delivered a body blow when the 2020 Games were postponed but now, it is all about making the most of whatever 2021 has in store for them and be prepared once again for a first-ever postponed Olympics. (IANS)


Photo by Wikimedia Commons.

Char Dham Yatra resumed on Friday with more than 16,000 devotees resuming the pilgrimage from the Rishikesh camp.

As weather cleared up in Uttarakhand, Char Dham Yatra restored on Friday with more than 16,000 devotees resuming the pilgrimage from the Rishikesh camp.

According to sources, road leading to Badrinath has been repaired and helicopter service has also resumed.

Meanwhile, Uttarakhand Chief Minister Pushkar Singh Dhami visited Dungi village and met families of people who were missing after the landslip incident, and consoled them.

Dhami assured them of all possible assistance. Two people from the village are still reported to be missing.

Pilgrims were seen leaving from Rishikesh Char Dham Bus terminal and Haridwar bus station for the pilgrimage since morning.

As per the state government, various departments -- Devasthanam Board, police are assisting the pilgrims.

Police Chowki Yatra Bus Terminal, Rishikesh, was announcing passenger-information via loudspeaker.

Free RT-PCR tests of pilgrims were being conducted at Rishikesh bus terminal.

Uttarakhand Char Dham Devasthanam Management Board's media in-charge Dr Harish Gaur said pilgrimage was on in Kedarnath, Gangotri and Yamunotri, while for Kedarnath, helicopter service was also available.

Though the weather was cold in all dhams, thankfully there was no rain, he added.

Portals of the temple in Badrinath will close on November 20, Gangotri on November 5, while that of Kedarnath and Yamunotri on November 6.

Uttarakhand floods, triggered by a major downpour from October 17 to 19, have claimed 65 lives so far, 3,500 people have been rescued while 16,000 evacuated to safety.

Seventeen teams of National Disaster Response Force (NDRF), seven teams of State Disaster Response Force (SDRF), 15 companies of Provincial Armed Constabulary (PAC) and 5,000 police personnel have been engaged in rescue and relief operations.

The state has already been provided with Rs 250 crore Disaster Fund which is being used for relief works.

To prevent spread of the diseases, the Central and state governments have decided to send medical teams to the affected areas.

Snapped power lines will be restored at the earliest, the government assured.

The state government said that as soon as alert for heavy rainfall was issued, the Incident Response System was activated at state and district levels, and pilgrims were halted at safer places. (IANS/JB)

Keywords: Uttarakhand, India, Char Dham Yatra, PushkarDhami, Rishikesh.

Photo by Wikimedia Commons.

Naga leaders are adamant in their main demands for a separate Constitution and flag.

The Centre has continued the Naga peace talks with the Isak-Muivah faction of National Socialist Council of Nagalim (NSCN-IM) leaders, but negotiations face roadblocks as the Naga leaders are adamant in their main demands for a separate Constitution and flag.

The sources aware of these developments said that the Centre was hopeful that a successful solution of the six decades-long peace talks would arrive at a logical conclusion, but in the recent statements, Naga leaders have accused the Centre of offering post-solution options.

Sources quoting the stand of Naga leaders said that NSCN's stand was loud and clear that it would not follow the forbidden route to the Naga solution that was linked to foregoing the Naga national flag and Constitution, which is the face of the Naga political struggle and identity.

The Naga leaders have also said that the Centre has been using divisive policy and flattery in the name of finding the Naga political solution when the matters heated up.

When the Centre resumed the peace process in September this year and sent the former special director of the Intelligence Bureau (IB) A.K. Mishra as the Ministry of Home Affairs' emissary to the rebel outfit's chief negotiator and general secretary T. Muivah, he assured him (Muivah) that the peace talks would be initiated under the original framework signed in 2015, a source in the Naga rebel group said.

"Here we are talking about the Naga national flag and Yehzabo (Constitution), the two issues that are holding up the Naga solution under the ongoing Indo-Naga political talks in Delhi.

"The chequered history of the Indo-Naga political issue is clear enough before us, with accords and agreements that were never meant to be implemented in letter and spirit", an important office-bearer of the rebel outfit said while criticizing the governments' stand.

Accusing the Centre, he further accused the Centre of persuading the Naga people again to accept whatever is being offered to hurry up the Naga talks.

On the invitation of the Centre, the senior leaders of the NSCN-IM including T. Muivah arrived in the national capital on October 6 this year to hold another round of talks with the Centre.

Both, the Centre and the Naga leaders had indicated their keenness on resolving this long pending issue by the end of this year in an amicable manner.

Assam Chief Minister Himanta Biswa Sharma, who is also chairman of North East Democratic Alliance (NEDA), and Nagaland Chief Minister Neiphiu Rio had been actively involved in the resumption of the peace talks and taking it forward to a logical conclusion.

Soon after the transfer of Nagaland Governor R.N. Ravi, who was appointed as the Centre's interlocutor for the Naga peace talks on August 29, 2014, to Tamil Nadu, the peace talks resumed on September 20 in Kohima when the Centre representative met the Naga leaders and invited them to visit Delhi for further rounds of peace talks.

The NSCN-IM and the other outfits entered into a ceasefire agreement with the Government of India in 1997 and over 80 rounds of negotiations with the Centre have been held in the past in successive governments. (IANS/JB)

Keywords: Nagaland, India, Constitution, Politics, Flag.

Photo by Wikimedia Commons

India-England test series will now be played next year from July 1 at Edgbaston Stadium

The series decider for the Test series between England and India will now be played at Edgbaston from July 1 next year, said the England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB) on Friday. India is currently leading the series 2-1 before the fifth Test at Old Trafford was cancelled hours before the start due to concerns over COVID-19 outbreak in the tourists' camp.

"The fifth match of the LV= Insurance Test Series between England Men and India Men has been rescheduled and will now take place in July 2022. The match, which was due to take place last month at Emirates Old Trafford, was called off when India were unable to field a team due to fears of a further increase in the number of Covid-19 cases inside the camp," said an ECB statement.

"With India leading the series 2-1, the concluding fifth match will now take place from July 1, 2022, at Edgbaston, following an agreement between the England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB) and the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI)," added the statement.

ECB also said that due to the rescheduled Test, the white-ball series between England and India will now start six days later than originally planned. The T20I series will begin on July 7 at Ageas Bowl with Edgbaston and Trent Bridge hosting the second and third matches respectively on July 9 and 10. It will be followed by the ODI series starting on July 12 at The Oval followed by Lord's and Old Trafford hosting the second and third ODI on July 14 and 17 respectively.

"Ticket holders do not have to take any action as all tickets will remain valid for the equivalent rearranged matchday at their host venue. Host venues will communicate the new fixture details to ticket purchasers and the options available to them, including the timeframe for requesting a refund if they are not able to attend the new match day," further said the statement.

"We are very pleased that we have reached an agreement with BCCI to creating a fitting end to what has been a brilliant series so far. I'm very grateful to all the venues involved for the cooperation they've shown in allowing us to reschedule this match. I'd also like to thank Cricket South Africa for their support and understanding to allow these changes to be possible," said Tom Harrison, the CEO of the ECB.

"We would like to apologise again to fans for the disruption and disappointment of September events. We know it was a day that so many had planned long in advance. We recognise that accommodating this extra match means a tighter schedule for the white ball series. We will continue to manage our players' welfare and workloads through next year while we also continue to seek the optimum schedule for fans, players and our partners across the game."

"I am delighted that the England-India Test series will now have its rightful conclusion. The four Test matches were riveting, and we needed a fitting finale. The BCCI recognizes and respects the traditional form of the game and is also mindful of its role and obligations towards fellow Board Members. In the last two months, both BCCI and the ECB have been engaged in discussions and our efforts were aimed at finding a suitable window. I thank the ECB for their understanding and patience in finding an amicable solution," said BCCI Secretary Jay Shah. (IANS/JB)

Keywords: India, Britain, BCCI, Test Match, Cricket.