As India prepare for their biggest challenge — the AFC Women’s Asian Cup, which starts on January 20 — their first task is to get accustomed to the bio-bubble.
The continental tournament which will take place in Mumbai, Navi Mumbai and Pune will see 12 of the best sides from Asia. At stake is a spot at the 2023 FIFA Women’s World Cup which will take place in Australia and New Zealand.
The AFC have come out with extremely strict restrictions to ensure the tournament proceeds without any hiccups, given the spread of Covid-19 in Maharashtra, one of the worst-affected states in the country.
India, who will play their games at DY Patil Stadium and Mumbai Football Arena, have been put up in a hotel in Navi Mumbai. The hotel, part of the bio-bubble, is closed for any other guests. The hotel staff, drivers and everyone involved with the teams are in the bubble.
With these precautions also come challenges.
Sources told FPJ that those in the bubble have individual rooms and are given their meals in their respective rooms.
“Four meals a day (breakfast, lunch, snacks and dinner) are sent to the respective rooms. Players cannot come out of their rooms unless they have a scheduled session,” a source said.
Indian team during practice. | Photo: AIFFMedia
Even for gym sessions and strength training sessions, the team is divided into two groups. Even while going to the training ground — they train at the newly inaugurated CIDCO turf — the team goes in two groups.
“The only time the entire team is together is when they are on the pitch. Otherwise everyone is following these protocols very diligently. They know what is at stake,” the source said.
For a team sport, with so much riding on them, these restrictions can be inconvenient. But the team is only focused on the positives.
“The players have taken these restrictions very sportingly. They are content as they have several video interactions throughout the day, especially technical sessions.”
These regulations though will not continue throughout the tournament. They are only for the initial stages of the tournament as the teams have just travelled to the state.
India are grouped with China, Chinese Taipei and Iran in Group A. They have a great chance of making it to the quarterfinal and will take courage from the fact that they’ve beaten Chinese Taipei in a friendly recently.
Two football bio-bubbles in the country have been breached this year. The Indian Super League (ISL) has seen a few of its games being cancelled with as many as nine teams having positive cases in their bubbles. The I-League had to be postponed after more than 50 players tested for the virus.