Indian Sports Minister Kiren Rijiju and shuttler PV Sindhu (L)
Indian Sports Minister Kiren Rijiju and shuttler PV Sindhu (L)

Wary of the novel COVID-19 threat, top shuttler PV Sindhu on Thursday called up Sports Minister Kiren Rijiju from the United Kingdom, seeking his suggestion on whether to continue playing in the All England Championships.

Rijiju said on Friday that he told her to carry on and follow the safety guidelines of that country.

The Sports Ministry had on Thursday issued an advisory asking national federations to follow the Health Ministry's guidelines and avoid large gatherings in sports events. Earlier, it had asked all National Sports Federations to exercise caution while sending teams for foreign competitions.

"Sindhu called me and I told her that those who are playing outside in important tournaments like the Olympic qualifications can continue to play but they should follow guidelines of those respective countries. They should also take certain safety measures," Rijiju told the media after the General Body Meeting of the Sports Authority of India here.

Asked about shuttler P Kashyap expressing confusion regarding the advisory of the Health Ministry through his tweets, Rijiju said, "I have made the clarification that those who are competing abroad should continue." "The PM is personally monitoring the situation. We are very serious. Public health is a concern and the government at the highest level has taken a decision to ensure that there are no events happening with large number of people gathering." Rijiju said that Indian players who had taken part in competitions held at the seven notified countries as well as athletes from those nations coming for events here will have to be compulsorily quarantined.

"Whether they are Indian players or foreign athletes, they have to be quarantined," he said.

The seven notified countries are China, Iran, South Korea, Italy, France, Spain and Germany.

Asked if the India Open badminton tournament, scheduled to be held later this month without spectators, will go ahead, he said, "We have issued advisories to all NSFs, including BCCI, regarding players going abroad and for those taking part in events inside the country.

"Which federation had reacted in what manner, I don't want to go into that. These guidelines will have to be followed in letter and spirit by the NSFs. They should also follow the guidelines of the Health Ministry." The COVID-19 pandemic has wrecked havoc the world over with the international sporting calendar going haywire, with many events, including Olympic qualifiers, being either postponed or cancelled.

"The shooting World Cup is postponed, basketball Olympic qualifier is postponed. And they (the BCCI) decided to postpone it (IPL). It was a decision taken in the interest of the nation. Health must be a priority for everybody," Rijiju said.

Asked about any advisory on the senior national hockey team players who are still inside the SAI Centre in Bengaluru which has been shut down, he said, "Those inside the camps, all necessary precautionary measures are being taken. I have asked the officials to keep in touch with them.

"We have issued two advisories, one for domestic events and another for those athletes training abroad." In an important decision, the GBM decided that all national and international events organised at SAI stadiums and facilities will be free of cost, including water and electricity charges.

"We want to encourage international sports events being organised in india. We also want NSFs to organise national events without spending much, so we took this important decision," the sports minister said.

Rijiju announced that all the existing SAI Extension and Special Area Games Centres will be merged into SAI Training Centres to be funded under Khelo India.

"This will create better awareness and we will be able to focus on potential areas like tribal areas of a particular discipline," he said.

"We have also decided to create 23 National Centres of Excellence within India. We have picked 14 priority sports, all of them Olympic sports, for these CoEs. Olympic sports will be our top priority." The sports minister also said that the setting up of 25 new hostels has been approved which will create an additional residential capacity of 8000 athletes.

"We have also approved the appointment of 350 sports science experts, more than 100 specialised mess and kitchen staff, including chefs and nutritionists in these CoEs."

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