The Japan Para Badminton team returned to training at the Hulic Nishikasai Gymnasium in Tokyo in mid-June, adhering to strict guidelines in accordance with the World Health Organization (WHO) and after approval from the Japan Paralympic Committee.
Kazumi Hirano, chairman of the Japan Para Badminton Federation (JPBF), talks about their plans to get back on track for Tokyo 2020.
What are the guidelines to resuming full-time training?
We are resuming activities in stages, beginning with hygiene management of the facilities. Phase 1 is the at-home training which athletes have been doing since the lockdown. Phase 2 is when we started allowing use of the gymnasium by limiting the number of people and duration to light daily sessions. Things will return to normal by the time we reach Phase 5 on 26 July, after which doubles pairs can train together. However, if COVID-19 cases start increasing again, the earlier phases will be restored.
What about Phase 3 and 4?
In Phase 3, the allocated time is up to three hours per session for each player including the time of entry to and exit from the building. Therefore, the actual training time may be less than two hours.
Phase 4 allows six hours, which is two three-hour sessions for each player. One session is badminton practice, and the other is training. It is only light training to avoid any temporary drop in immunity due to fatigue.
What was the condition of the players returning to training?
The players showed symptoms such as weight gain, loss of motivation, psychological stress. As a result, some players were able to return smoothly to training, while others are starting from scratch. Some players are wary of COVID-19 because they need to travel. Each player has different feelings but by explaining the phases and JPBF’s strengthening plan, I feel that the players are becoming more optimistic.
What was done to prepare for this return?
When the players were in isolation, the coaches and I monitored their training and fitness. We then started to work to restore the athletes to perfect condition. When they returned, the coaches studied each player’s condition and offered a suitable course for each one of them. This is an ongoing process involving the JPBF coaches and medical team, the Sports Science Department of the National Science and Sports Centre, and myself.
How is this system working so far?
For now, I think it’s going well. We understand the condition of each athlete and are responding to their needs. We have strict rules in the gymnasium and players have been told to avoid using public transportation, to reduce the risk of exposure to COVID-19 as much as possible. If adjustments are needed depending on the Coronavirus situation in Tokyo, we are prepared to respond flexibly.
What is the most difficult part of planning and implementing this phase system?
We believe our plan is within our expectations. I find it difficult to make predictions on factors outside of JPBF. Recently, for example, the number of COVID-19 infected people in Tokyo is starting to increase again. According to the Tokyo Metropolitan Government, a self-isolation period may be imposed again. Then, our well-prepared plan, designed to get us moving in the same direction with the players, will be rolled back. Maintaining the motivation of the players, as well as the staff, will be a huge challenge. It will be difficult to deal with new restrictions caused by external factors beyond our control.
What do you believe is the long-term impact of the lockdown on the sport?
As the global economy slumps due to the impact of COVID-19, there is concern that some Para sports organisations may suffer due to a decrease in sponsorship activity.
How did the lockdown and being away from competition affect the athletes?
The 2019 schedule was hard so the lockdown gave us all a chance to rest our bodies and mind. Even as an organisation, the JPBF has been able to take time to review our plans. However, not being able to practice and compete together has had some negative effect on players’ performances.
How has the postponement of the Paralympics affected the athletes?
The psychological damage caused by the postponement of the Paralympic Games is big, and the reason being the pandemic has resulted in some players having a negative attitude. But the world is currently disrupted by COVID-19. We need to act and think positively, to look forward to the day when humanity will overcome this situation and we can meet our Para badminton family around the world again.