‘Things have changed in Germany after increasing deaths in Europe’
With all sporting events suspended, and most training centres and national camps shut, what are athletes doing with their forced leisure Time? Everyday a top athlete will talk about her or his experience of dealing with the Covid-19 pandemic. This is Fouaad Mirza, who ended India’s 36-year wait for an individual Equestrian medal at the 2018 Asian Games. The only Indian rider to win a Tokyo Olympics quota place, Mirza is currently in Germany, where around 40,000 positive cases have been reported.
I am currently living in a small village called Bergedorf near the town of Ganderkesee, which is located in North-West Germany. It’s a secluded place with farmlands and a population of, maybe, fewer than 100.
Following Monday’s announcement by (German Chancellor) Angela Merkel, a fresh set of guidelines have been issued that include a ban on public gatherings of more than two people and maintaining a 1.5-metre distance at all times when in public space. Even the food joints are closed.
Unless there is a severe need of anything—be it food or other things—I do not step out of my training base. Our area hasn’t yet reported any positive cases of Covid-19. There are, however, a few cities in Germany which are under heavy lockdown. The City of Bremen, a densely populated area near the village where I stay, has reported a few positive cases.
I remember even two weeks ago, people were sort of not taking the outbreak too seriously. All that changed when the death cases in Europe rose by the hundreds. I remember going to the supermarket and finding the shelves empty a few days ago. However, things got better a day later as they had stacked up the essential stuff sufficiently. But I didn’t understand why people took such large quantities of toilet paper; maybe it’s the herd mentality!
As I live in an apartment alone, I have mostly stuffed food items like pasta, rice, coffee; basically things that can last for a longer period. As for fruits and other things that may get damaged quickly, there is no point stacking up on those items. Nothing much has changed for me after the fresh guidelines here, but will act according to how the situation unfolds in the coming days.
There is a Finnish rider in our training base as well as other German riders, not to mention my trainer Sandra Auffarth, a former World champion and an Olympic medallist. She was also in the shortlist to represent Germany at the Tokyo Games. I am lucky that my sponsors Embassy Group have been kind enough to extend all the support possible. It would not have been possible to train in Europe for so long without their support. I feel it’s my responsibility to repay their faith and hence, I never thought of returning to India.
Now that the Olympics are postponed, I would certainly turn down the intensity of training. It’s a bittersweet moment, I suppose.
I now have one extra year to prepare. Some of the horses in my team are in their prime years or are sort of at the end of their prime years. To get one more good year out of them, we will have to be very careful about managing them, fitness wise and health-wise and so on. That’s namely for the two horses that had qualified – Touching Wood and Fernhill Facetime.
Seigneur Medicott is still there with an extra year. He can be very important horse in our team. Then Dajara 4 is a Young horse and with an extra year can be absolutely Super. Everything happens for the best.
I also had some other goals of trying to compete at the five-star level, it is a level above the Olympics which is four-star. I had to hold off that goal because I had to save my horses for the Olympic Games. Now that there is a little bit more time, I could try to achieve the goal to compete at a five-star.
With the virus we don’t know whether we will have competitions in four weeks or four months or eight months. I had heard something that they might run the entire qualification procedure again. But I feel that would be quite difficult especially in our sport because firstly we don’t know exactly when this season will start again.
Our competition season starts in April and ends in October in Europe. In that case if it starts in eight months, the season is over by then and there is no chance of initiating the procedure again. I think, at least as far as Equestrian sport is concerned they would not be able to run the entire qualification procedure again.
Now, I think we all have to do everything in our power to Stop this virus from spreading and so that we get back to our normal lives again.
(As told to Abhishek Paul)