Medal winners from the Khelo India Youth and University Games are among several top swimmers from Delhi who now have to travel to pools in Haryana at pre-dawn hours just to get a single session in the water.
In Delhi, swimming pools are yet to open. The Talkatora Indoor Swimming Pool, for example, has been closed since March and its doors remain shut despite guidelines from the home ministry as far back as September asking for pools to open for training for elite swimmers.
Swimmers like Prachi Tokas, who excelled in the freestyle events at the 2019 National School Games, now travels every day to reach private pools bordering Delhi, where elite swimmers are being allowed to train from 4am to 6am.
“That’s the only slot for us,” the teenaged Tokas, who has also won medals at the senior national championships, said. “I’ve no other option but to drive down with my parents to a private pool near Rohtak in Haryana. If the pools in Delhi were open, I would have trained twice a day.”
Paramjeet Sejwal, whose two sons Sidhant and Sameer, are medal winners at the national level, also follows the same routine.
“It’s taxing as the journey is two hours one side and we have to rush back to manage other routine work,” Paramjeet said. “But it’s important to train in water at least once a day to stay fit for competition.”
According to Sejwal, the pool in Haryana is 25m (the standard size is 50m) but it has a heating system.
While some of the top swimmers have the resources to travel as well as pay for the use of the pool (around Rs5000 for a session), many others simply can’t afford to.
“If private pools can function in Haryana why can’t the government open in Delhi?” said Raj Kumar, secretary of the Delhi state swimming unit.
While Sports Authority of India’s (SAI, which runs the Talkatora facility) director general Sandip Pradhan didn’t respond to messages and calls, an official of the department, on condition of anonymity said, the Delhi Disaster Management Authority is yet to give a green light for pools to open.
Meanwhile, swimmers of the SAI academy, including Olympic hopeful Kushagra Rawat, have shifted to Bengaluru for training.
“The local government has allowed pools to function from October in Karnataka,” said Kumar.