Don’t touch the ball: FIH lays down the rules for hockey’s return

NEW DELHI: Albeit slowly, but the barriers are lifting one by one for athletes to return to training and in some cases to competitive sport, like the Bundesliga football league in Germany, as the fight against the COVID-19 pandemic becomes a long-drawn battle. On Tuesday, the International Hockey Federation (FIH) laid down the rules for a gradual return to the turf.

The announcement by FIH coincides with the order of the Government of India, which allowed sports complexes and stadiums to open without spectators in the fourth phase of the lockdown that runs from May 18 to 31. The elite Indian athletes, who have either qualified for the Tokyo Olympics or are expected to qualify, could be the first to hit the ground running since March.

The Indian men’s and women’s hockey teams booked their Olympic tickets in November last year and have been under lockdown at the Sports Authority of India (SAI) centre in Bengaluru for over two months now. Camping at their training facility already, the teams are waiting for final clearances as SAI has already released the SOP (Standard Operating Procedure) to be followed.

With FIH also issuing its guidelines — under the leadership of president, Dr Narinder Batra, and chief of its Health and Safety Committee, Dr BK Nayak, the road for hockey’s return to training has become a lot clearer.

“Continental Federations, National Associations and clubs should use these guidelines to create policies for return to activity within their own areas. In doing so, everyone needs to be sure to comply with local laws (including health and safety and COVID-19-specific legislation) and any policies implemented by government or local authorities,” the FIH said in the document titled ‘Safely Returning to Hockey in view of the COVID-19 pandemic’.

Besides the details regarding international guidelines for the resumption of sport at elite and community levels, as well as organisation and hygiene of the pitch, stadium, etc, the FIH issued the following twelve directives to be followed at training:

1. Respect your government rules and guidance. Anyone showing symptoms of COVID-19 should not train.
2. Arrive at training on your own using private transport, walking, bike or by car.
3. Arrive shortly before training.
4. Follow the sign for everything and for leaving the field.
5. Respect the 1.5-metre distance between players.
6. Do not touch the ball with your hands.
7. Do not celebrate or high-five with team-mate.
8. Clean and disinfect your hands before and after training.
9. Do not touch your mouthguard with your hands, no spitting.
10. Bring and use your own water bottle only.
11. Bring and use your own stick, shin pads, and/or goal-keeping kit only.
12. Return home/hostel directly after the training session.

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In addition, the FIH recommended a phase-wise return to training:

Phase 1: Individual training
Phase 2: Training in small groups – without body contact (not competitive, no tackling)
Phase 3: Training in small groups – with body contact (competitive, with tackling)
Phase 4. Team training

With the Sports Ministry suspending overseas training for all Indian athletes, this could be the blueprint that’s followed through to the end of the year for all sports in India. Whether the teams or athletes can travel for competition or not will depend on future orders by the Government of India.
The FIH, meanwhile, has put the Pro League on hold until July.

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