June 16 (Reuters) - Indian Olympic Association (IOA) chief Narinder Batra rues the lack of competition for the country’s athletes in the lead-up to the Olympics due to the COVID-19 pandemic but is confident that the team can achieve its “double digit” medal target in Tokyo.
The world’s second most populous nation has been an Olympic laggard and the six medals the contingent won in London 2012 remains the best outing for the nation of 1.4 billion.
With the pandemic sweeping across the world, many sporting events have been either cancelled or postponed since the start of 2020, robbing athletes of the opportunity to test themselves at competitions.
“When you’re training your team for the biggest event in sport, athletes do need good competition,” Batra told Reuters in a phone interview. “So that they can be sure that whatever they’re trying or doing is on the right track.
“That is something that the athletes will miss but I don’t see that issue as specific to India. I don’t want to put any pressure on athletes but our expectation certainly is in double digits given the way we have planned and things are going on.”
The pandemic swept the world’s second-most populous nation last year, leaving athletes in India stuck in a lengthy shutdown and then the infections surged again in a devastating second wave in 2021.
“Last year there was a bit of a glitch on how to start preparations, certain things started, certain things didn’t start,” said Batra, who also heads the International Hockey Federation.
“But this time preparation did not get affected because people who are practising in India are under bio-bubble and tested twice a week for RT-PCR. Protocols are also being followed for those that are training outside.
“I would say more than half of the total list of athletes have been vaccinated twice. Training is going on in full force and all athletes will go to Tokyo with both vaccinations done.”
The IOA are not taking any chances with the safety of the athletes, Batra said.
For athletes in India, who are not allowed to communicate in person with the outside world, their house-keeping staff, canteen staff are also being monitored regularly and tested twice a week.
Doping has always been a major concern in India and earlier this month Olympic-bound freestyle wrestler Sumit Malik was provisionally suspended after failing a test in Bulgaria.
Batra was confident that doping will not become a blot on the country’s image in Tokyo.
“I will not hesitate to say that our athletes are very much aware of doping. Our efforts have been vigorous in this regard,” said Batra, who will be attending an Olympics in person for the first time in Tokyo.
Many people, both in Japan and abroad, have called for the Tokyo Games to be cancelled or postponed due to the risk of holding it during a pandemic.
Lauding the world governing body International Olympic Committee and the Tokyo organisers, Batra, however, said he has never heard or seen anything to suggest that the Games will not go ahead as planned from July 23.
“There could be minor issues but I believe the IOC and the organising committee in Tokyo have handled it wonderfully. I haven’t got a feeling from anywhere that it is not happening,” he said.
“There are sufficient signs for everyone to understand that the Olympics are on. The only issue is with spectators. That’s a call the government will take in Japan.” (Reporting by Sudipto Ganguly in Berhampore, India; editing by Pritha Sarkar)