Exclusive: "People can't even say final goodbye to their loved ones" - Daniele De Spigno opens on COVID-19 crisis in Italy and more

New Delhi, Delhi, IndiaWritten By: Digvijay Singh DeoUpdated: Jun 08, 2020, 04:42 PM IST
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Two-time world champion and one of the legends of world shooting, Daniele De Spigno, in an exclusive interview with WION's Sports Editor, Digvijay Singh Deo, opened up on life under lockdown in Italy, affect of COVID-19 in the world of sports, proposal of resuming Serie A, form of Olympic hopeful shooters, postponement of Tokyo Olympics and much more.

Two-time world champion and one of the legends of world shooting, Daniele De Spigno, in an exclusive interview with WION's Sports Editor, Digvijay Singh Deo, opened up on life under lockdown in Italy, affect of COVID-19 in the world of sports, proposal of resuming Serie A, form of Olympic hopeful shooters, postponement of Tokyo Olympics and much more.

Digvijay Singh Deo:  Daniele, thanks for connecting with us. Life is slowly finding a way back in your country. How difficult have the last 2 months been?

Daniele Di Spigno: The situation has been very grim here in Italy over the last couple of months. But now we see that some restrictions are being eased and we are trying to move towards some mode of 'normalcy'.

DSD: The numbers are staggering Daniele.close to 30,000 official deaths in Italy and many more cases of people struggling with the coronavirus. As a society, this will be a difficult time to forget.

Daniele Di Spigno: Absolutely. This crisis has been unprecedented, not just for Italy but the entire world. The economic effects of this lockdown have also been considerable and we are going to be facing tough times in the coming months as well. One of the things that struck me was the fact that people are not even able to hold funerals for their loved ones during the pandemic. It is horrible that people don't have the opportunity to say a final goodbye to their families and friends. The situation had become so bad in some cities in Italy that the army had to transport the dead bodies because the cemeteries had run out of places for bodies.

DSD: Daniele, for you personally what was it like to live through this pandemic. You are a 4-time  world champion and you have won multiple medals in shooting. As a sportsperson, you learn to deal with adversity over yours. Yet you must have been helpless through the last 2 months.

Daniele Di Spigno: The advice that I gave to the shooters that I coach is to be patient and stay healthy. Safety and health is the priority. We must do all that we can to protect our loved ones. Athletes have to adapt to these times and must show mental strength to overcome this crisis. There will be valuable training-time lost but athletes have to accept the situation and find ways to deal with it.

DSD: We read horrifying reports of the medical system collapsing, of doctors and healthcare workers too succumbing to the virus. As a citizen what was the ordeal like with everything descending into chaos.

Daniele Di Spigno: Yes, it was very difficult to conduct basic activities. Even when I went out to buy groceries, I wasn't sure how much distance to maintain from other people. What has happened until now has been truly terrible, but we have to overcome this crisis. We are gradually opening things up, the government has allowed athletes to train with certain restrictions. A shooter can now train with his or her coach. So these are positive developments. But we cannot change our approach towards the coronavirus just because things are opening up. As the government has said, we must still take the necessary precautions to fight the virus even when certain restrictions have been relaxed. Till we get a COVID-19 vaccine, there will be some element of risk out there, so we have to take care of ourselves.

Daniele Di Spigno

DSD: Tourism has been Italy's go-to revenue generator and it does not look like resuming soon. Is the worst of the pandemic yet to come in terms of impact as livelihoods continue to get affected, the economy is already in recession. How tough is it financially on the people.

Daniele Di Spigno: The tourism industry in Italy has taken a big hit. There are many in the country who depend on tourism for their livelihood and they are struggling at the moment. I heard over 90 per cent of hotel bookings in the country have been cancelled during the crisis. The government is working on a plan which will open up the tourism industry to some extent. People could be allowed access to beaches if they maintain social distancing rules. Cafes and restaurants are huge revenue generators and the government is working on a plan to get them up and running again. So a lot of people in the tourism industry are at risk of losing their jobs.

There is some relief package that has been provided by the government but the amount is barely enough to cover for essential services. There needs to be a more concrete long term plan in place. Other industries have also been badly hit. For example, the barbershops can open from next month, but they can only allow one customer every two hours inside the premises. That means only 5-6 people will avail the services of the salon on a daily basis, which is not enough to sustain the business. On a personal note, I live in a seaside-town and am used to going to the beach every day. I have two sons and a daughter and they are also finding it very tough to deal with the crisis. My six-year-old daughter was crying yesterday because she hasn't been able to see any of her friends, we sometimes forget how strange it must be for the children to live in a period like this. We as adults are probably mentally trained to cope with a crisis like this but the children are not.

Constant interaction is also very important for a child's growth, so they are losing out on that aspect of life as well. Little kids thrive on outdoor activities and playing with their friends. So this crisis in a way is very unfair on them. I would also like to appeal to everyone to help out small business owners during the coronavirus. The big corporations and companies will survive, but the local store owners will struggle for finances without any assistance. So I appeal to those in a position of privilege to buy items from local stores rather than order products online from multinational corporations.

DSD: Let's shift tracks a little bit, how has Italian sport fared through this crisis?

Daniele Di Spigno: The athletes were in the last stages of their preparation for the Olympic games, but because of the postponement, athletes have to go back to the drawing board. In terms of shooting, I'm part of the Athletes' Committee of the ISSF and the body has decided to cancel all international events for the year. There might be some minor competitions which take place in a few months but they will not be part of Olympic qualifying. The entire shooting season has to be rescheduled because of the coronavirus. Once the season begins, a shooter has to start from scratch and regain fitness levels.

Daniele Di Spigno

DSD: You competed in four Olympic games and the Games have been postponed by a year. Will it be enough for athletes across the world to get back to their full peak considering training has been virtually non-existent for months now

Daniele Di Spigno: For shooters, it will maybe take 3-5 months to get back to peak performance levels. Which means if they start training now, they will probably be tournament-ready in October or November. But since the shooting season is over by that time, the athletes have nothing to prepare for. So I would advise the athletes not to panic. I think the shooters should treat this as the beginning of the season and practice drills they would usually do in January, like dry training. So I would advise the shooters to do minimal training and maintain their physical fitness. I have told my players to work on building their strength, because of the time available to them. Usually, during this time of the year shooters would work on other aspects of their game. But since there are no competitions scheduled they can work on improving their fundamentals.

DSD: You are from the sport of shooting which is mostly a mental sport. Mental anxiety and performance pressure is always there but currently is that what coaches and sports bodies should focus on, to talk to athletes and help them overcome this.

Daniele Di Spigno: Working without a target in mind is very hard. Any athlete needs a goal to work towards to be able to train in the best possible manner. Right now there is no clarity on the schedule so it is difficult for them. These times are unprecedented and mental toughness is crucial during this time. Shooters can use this time to work on their visualisation skills and physical fitness, but i understand it can be extremely tough to be productive. Since there is no end goal in mind, it is not possible for a coach to tell the athletes to work on a particular aspect of the game, because it is impossible to create a schedule for preparation. I have created a WhatsApp group with my shooters who are in India, but there is only so much I can help them with right now.

DSD: Japan says that the Olympics will get cancelled if the vaccine is not found. Till when do you think a decision has to be made and by when should international calendar resume for the Olympics to go ahead.

Daniele Di Spigno: The health and safety of the athletes and everyone involved in the Games have to be given top priority under any circumstance. For the Olympics to be held, the situation has to improve all over the world, not just in a few countries. The Olympics is the biggest sporting event in the world and athletes from every country congregate. I agree with japan when they say that if a proper solution to the problem is not found, then the games will not be held. There are thousands of people who live in an Olympic village during the games and I don't think it is possible to practice social distancing in that limited space. I hope a vaccine is ready so that we can have a full-fledged Olympics and return to normalcy.

Daniele Di Spigno

DSD: Word is that Serie A could resume soon. How important is it for sport to return and give people something to look forward to.

Daniele Di Spigno: I don't think the Serie A should resume in the current situation. In a contact sport like football, there are 22 players on the field and I think there are huge health risks involved. There are people who are asymptomatic but are testing positive for the coronavirus. I think the league authorities and clubs are catering to their financial interests in resuming the season because they realise that a lot of money is there to be made. I think they are putting money ahead of the health and safety of the athletes. Also, it will be very strange for the players to play in an empty stadium. Football is all about atmospherics and you take away the beauty of the sport when you play without supporters.

DSD: Final question, what for you are the lessons from this period of suffering?

Daniele Di Spigno: I have learnt to cherish the little things in life which we earlier took for granted. I realised I was too involved with my work and didn't spend enough time with my family. This time during the lockdown has been a real eye-opener for me. I have really enjoyed spending quality time with my children and will try to take out more time to do so once we return to our normal lives. Before this interview, I was helping out my son with math problems. We sometimes get caught up in the rat race and forget to take a step back and reflect. I hope we all learn to slow down a bit and cherish what is really important in our lives.