Coronavirus: Masks affect player coordination

Coronavirus: Masks affect player coordination

Issue

The mandatory wearing of the mask during training to prevent the spread of Covid-19 has already resulted in some worrying developments. There have been reports of amateur joggers and those in training hospitalised. Notwithstanding these concerns, sporting bodies in the country - including the Sports Authority of India - have announced that the government directive will ‘supersede the SOP’, meaning athletes have to wear a mask and ensure it’s tight too. 

“The concerned authorities need to look into the situation and relax the rules at least for athletes,” said Dr Sudharshan, an epidemiologist on State’s Covid Task Force.

“Honestly, it doesn’t look like they will relax the mask rule for a long time because that’s the primary source of contamination. Irrespective of whether you’re a layman or an athlete.” 

Sai Prasanna, who trains a number of national and international athletes at A3 Performance in Bengaluru, explained that cognitive disturbances are a very real threat should athletes continue to train in these conditions. 

“It is a huge risk for athletes to train with the mask on as it causes one to hyperventilate. Athletes with high blood pressure should entirely avoid using the mask,” he said. “Also, if this oxygen deprivation continues, there will be cognitive disturbances and decreased motor control.” 

Another predicament, which Ashutosh Mehta (a former defender with the Aizawl Football Club) highlights, is the possible inability to communicate on the field when sport does return. “It’s hard enough to train with a mask on. No way can we play matches with a mask on,” he said.

“While breathing is definitely a concern, it will also be impossible for players to understand what the other player is doing or what the coach is saying from afar, assuming the coach also has to wear a mask. It’s not feasible as far as I’m concerned.”  

Chirag Shetty thought so too. “I don’t think people can play with a mask on, no chance,” said India’s top-ranked doubles’ player. “It’s not at all an option. If we don’t have a choice then I suppose we’ll learn how to over time but that could be detrimental to the health of some athletes. They’ll wind up after a set or less.”

A former high-profile member of the Indian cricket team’s coaching staff opined that the authorities shouldn’t bother with sports when so many factors have to be considered before resumption. “Sport is great as inspiration at a time like this, but not at the cost of lives. That’s what matters eventually so I’d rather we didn’t play at all,” he offers.

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