Exclusive: 'It is time to introspect' - Pankaj Advani opens up on COVID-19 situation, lockdown, sporting calendar and more

Written By: Digvijay Singh Deo WION Web Team
New Delhi, Delhi, India Updated: Jun 08, 2020, 04:27 PM(IST)

Exclusive | Pankaj Advani in conversation with WION Photograph:( AFP )

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In an exclusive interview with WION’s Sports Editor Digvijay Singh Deo, 23-time World Champion Pankaj Advani spoke on the situation surrounding COVID-19, finding new perspective during tough times, how he is spending his time in lockdown, why people need to be more sensible and sensitive in these times and much more.

With the world of sport coming to a grinding halt due to the COVID-19 pandemic, sportspersons, who otherwise would have been on the road because of their busy schedule, have been restricted to train indoors. Almost the entire world is under lockdown to curb the spread of coronavirus which has led to 149 deaths with over 5.000 positive cases in India. Events like the Tokyo Olympics, Wimbledon, EURO among others have been either postponed or cancelled given the current scenario surrounding the deadly virus. 

In an exclusive interview with WION’s Sports Editor Digvijay Singh Deo, 23-time World Champion Pankaj Advani spoke on the situation surrounding COVID-19, finding new perspective during tough times, how he is spending his time in lockdown, why people need to be more sensible and sensitive in these times and much more.

Digvijay Singh Deo: Pankaj, thanks for taking out time for this. When I called you last evening you were playing a board game with your brother Shree. So that’s the lockdown mantra for you...

Pankaj: Absolutely, this is the time which we can use to bond with the family. Since we have to stay indoors, we are getting to do those things which we otherwise wouldn't do because we're so busy in the rat race. So we can spend some quality time with the family and indulge ourselves in board games, movies and books, something we probably miss out on a daily basis when life is normal.

My niece is winning the board game battle, kids these days are really smart and you have to hand it to them. It's good to lose sometimes and win in the real world where it really matters.

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DSD: I have been speaking to a lot of Indian sportspersons during the lockdown. These are unprecedented times with the global sporting calendar wiped out. Everything is shut and perhaps it is in this absence that we learn to appreciate why we love sports so much...

Pankaj: This lockdown has given us a lot of perspectives. We are now truly appreciating the things that we take for granted, not just in sport, but life in general. We now understand the value of household chores, something which we conveniently tried to avoid in the past. There is a newfound respect for our house help and other family members. We also have to lend a helping hand now and ensure that we do our duty. We must respect and understand the kind of effort our house help and family members put in to make our lives comfortable. 

When it comes to the world of sport, of course, we are missing the action and we will it value it even more once it returns. But at the moment it is very uncertain when competitive sport will return, it could be 6 months or even a year before we see any action. However I feel that we're fighting something that is bigger than sport, so each and every person has to contribute in some way to defeat the coronavirus.

Exclusive | Pankaj Advani in conversation with WION

DSD: Look at it, it's not just the iconic events such as the Monaco GP, Wimbledon and the Olympics that have been cancelled. Your sport too has seen cancellations...

Pankaj: In terms of cue sports, we had the Asian Snooker Championships and team events slated for the first half of April, which was obviously cancelled. It is unfortunate that so many major events like Wimbledon or the Olympics are being cancelled or pushed back. But as I mentioned, it is understandable given the current scenario and we will get another chance to compete in the future.

In sport, the worst that can happen in sport is that you lose, but you will always get another chance unless you're retiring. But there are no second chances in life and we are fighting for survival. Our priorities have to be health and safety at the moment. If we don't take this virus seriously, we may not even get the chance to witness or compete in sporting events in the future.

So must fight this virus together as a community and get through this crisis as quickly as possible.

DSD: I spoke to boxing legend Mary Kom the other day, and even she said that there are more important things right now than a sport...

Pankaj: Absolutely. It gives us so much perspective, this time that we have to ourselves, it makes us understand the most important things in life. In India, we have a famous saying ' roti, kapda, makaan’, and that holds true now. All we really need is food, shelter and clothing.

It might be a very simplistic approach to life at the moment, but maybe this was also part of nature's plan. At some point the correction had to be made, the unfortunate thing is that so many deaths are taking place and so many people are suffering all the world. My heartfelt condolences to all those families who are going through these times.

But a lot of important lessons can be learned from this ongoing crisis, to appreciate what we have and also to adapt as humans, because in some way this is the new normal now. Nobody would have thought that we would spend weeks or months in the confines of our four walls. But this situation has taught us some very important lessons and I think we have become better human beings.

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DSD: The virus has taught us that there is a way to stay indoors and limit yourself, it has sort of hit a reset button for all of us. And also reminded us of the importance of constant adaptation...

Pankaj: It is time to introspect and look within ourselves rather than always chasing external or material goals. We must also reflect on the tough times that we are going through right now. We as athletes must contribute in any which way we can. I'm also fortunate that I am in a position to contribute in whatever way I can to those in need.

The real heroes in these times are the doctors, nurses, the support staff and police, who have been putting their health at risk to protect others. My heartfelt gratitude to all those people who are on the front-line battling the virus to save our lives.

Exclusive | Pankaj Advani in conversation with WION

DSD: Lots of videos emerging of animals reclaiming what was once theirs, really is fascinating to see them roam around without a fear in towns next to forests...like those disaster movies we see...

Pankaj: It's been such a massive change for all of us. It may be a message from nature to all humans to pause, reflect and make a change. It is great to see animals reclaiming their spaces, you see dolphins in Venice or even off the coast in Mumbai. It's great to see peacocks roaming around, the environment has become much purer and clean. Despite the crisis, there have been mostly positive vibes around the world. I think we have interfered with nature too much and as a result of meddling with the natural environment and order, we are paying the price.
It is unfortunate but it probably had to happen, a lot of astrologers predicted this. But now the focus is to get back on our feet and learn our lessons from this massive crisis. We as humans must learn to live with other species and not disturb their natural order.

DSD: But as society punks, are we disciplined. Misbehaving with doctors, candlelight marches despite calls to stay at home. Governments, doctors, healthcare, police ...people are putting lives at risk to keep the country running but not everyone gets the gravity of the situation...

Pankaj: I think a lot of us need to understand the consequences of us not following the government guidelines. It was only last night, that I saw a video posted by Salman Khan, where he was saying that he was scared of the virus, but he also added that it was probably a good thing, because the more we are afraid of the disease, the more precautions we will take to not get infected.
The rate at which the virus spreads is exponential, so it is not just about getting saving yourself from getting infected, it's about ensuring that the community at large is protected. We also have to rise above our petty differences, we must not discriminate on the basis of religion, caste, class or race. It doesn't matter if you’re black or white, rich or poor, this virus can get anyone, even if you're the prime minister of a country, you can contract the virus, and we have seen examples of it with Boris Johnson falling ill.

The virus in a way is a great leveller, everyone has to take precautions against it, regardless of your status in society. As responsible citizens of not only our country but the world, we have to ensure that we cause as little harm as possible to humanity, we also have to look out and take care of our fellow humans and even animals, because they too are getting affected by the virus.

DSD: I have friends who do not go out to buy groceries because they are from the northeast and there are racial taunts coming their way. That’s the sad bit isn’t it even Jwala Gutta spoke about the same and sometimes situations like these bring out the worst in people...

Pankaj: It is so unfortunate that these incidents are taking place. We have to understand the fact that we are fighting a much bigger enemy, if we do that then we will not get into these petty and irrelevant arguments and we'll stop holding each other responsible for the spread of the virus.
It is sad that people are still not following the government's guidelines, we have seen so many religious meetings take place, even seeing people bursting crackers the other day was unfortunate. I would appeal to the public to maintain physical distancing, the reason I don't call it social distancing is because we can still be connected through technology. We are actually fighting this together, but the irony is we are doing so being away from each other. The more physically apart we are from each other, the more chances we have of winning this battle.

Exclusive | Pankaj Advani in conversation with WION

DSD: How important is the role of prominent sportspersons like you in times like these?

Pankaj: Sport is all about following the rules and exercising fair play. Sportsmanship is about competing on the same platform, and being fair to each individual. People tend to look up to sportspersons because we follow the rules very strictly and are extremely disciplined. So as athletes we can urge the public to strictly adhere to the guidelines set by the government and the world health organisation. So not only athletes, any influential person has a responsibility to spread positive messages during the lockdown, so that we get through this as quickly as possible.

DSD: If I could use the word, you are a slave to practice. That’s one of the reasons for your success. I spoke to Mary Kom and she said that even at 37 what keeps her going against the much younger opponents is her training regime. No holding back during training sessions. But since you don't have a billiards table at home, how do you plan to overcome this problem?

Pankaj: So you know how the saying goes - 'stay home, say safe', the rule for me is to 'stay home and play safe'. For me not playing at all during this period is staying safe. To be honest every athlete is going to be so rusty when he or she gets back to competing. The lack of training and staying indoors will obviously hugely affect performance. I don't even know if any international competition will take place this year. Even in my sport, I’m not sure what will happen, the only silver lining is that I will get to be defending world champion for another year if there are no more tournaments. 

On a serious note, every athlete is going to come into the arena with a more grateful approach, and every athlete has to accept and adapt to the situation. So when we get back I think we might see a fairer dignified approach towards sport, which means that people might not resort to unethical means while competing to win. But as I said before right now there are much bigger things to fight against. I do believe that we will come out of this stronger as human beings and this will make us better individuals, ultimately humanity will win. We must support one another and I appeal to everyone to stay home, stay safe and save lives.

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