Clubs and Sports
The Fault in our Sports
In the days leading up to the 9th of September, word got out about a cricket practice on campus - the first one in over a year. Almost 40 students showed up, and several social distancing rules were broken. Consequently, a complaint was reported to the Covid Committee, and the Dean of Student Affairs and the Sports Officer began investigation into the matter. At the same time, quite a few Covid cases turned up in hostels, especially Girnar, which was sealed as a containment zone. IIT Delhi was written about in major newspapers, media and even gained the attention of the Delhi Police. All sports and ongoing trials were shut down indefinitely, something that sports players at the campus had come to expect as the norm by now.
Sports have arguably been the most affected student activity since the haunting lockdown of March 2020, especially team sports like cricket, football and basketball. Even non-contact sports, like badminton and lawn tennis, suffered a major setback when students left for their homes. However, things are now on their way back to normalcy. Coaches and senior players are more determined than ever to get their teams together, while being respectful of the health risks involved in doing so.
Each institute team has eventually found its way to adapt to Covid protocol, albeit with major compromises.
Cricket and Football have adopted a slotting-type of schedule. “During practices we divide the players into sub-teams who practice together, utilizing the entire field.”
For sports like Athletics with a lot of student participation, events are first being organized at the hostel level, and then heat events for a select few.
In Basketball, boys and girls used to practice on the court at the same time, but now practice is conducted on two separate courts. As a result, the coach has to shuffle between them, seniors being assigned to oversee drills in the meantime. Additionally, some feel that the quality of the practice sessions has gone down because of this.
It will probably be some time before Aquatics is back on its feet. The Olympic-size swimming pool has been shut, and will remain so for the foreseeable future. Questions about the pool’s hygiene maintenance and accessibility for people outside IITD are yet to be answered convincingly, as far as both the Institute, and local Government authorities, are concerned.
The Sports seem to be under considerable pressure to adhere to Covid protocol, even during the duration of the games. According to the sports representative, “There’s always the professors and guards who take photos and report it to the Covid committee if we don’t.” The severe restrictions imposed, necessary though they may be, are undeniably affecting the quality of sports that is played at the Institute.
Students are gradually coming to campus, many for the first time in their lives. All of them are free to try out the different sports they find interesting. It has been easier for those who already play a sport, but unfortunately, most 2nd year students haven’t had the luxury of an offline first year that allows them to explore unfamiliar things, leading to loss of talent that could have otherwise added value to the sports culture.
All this has to make us consider if the situation is affecting the skills, player bonding and experience that is crucial for a team to be successful in games and tournaments in the future. “College sports are more about culture than skill. Usually, 3rd and 4th year students set the tone for the team’s success and define the culture. Because of the lockdown two batches graduated in the online semesters, leaving behind most of the teams with very few players with experience, so the culture of the teams will have to be built from scratch this year,” the General Secretary of BSA tells us.
Cultural clubs and club cultures
Besides Sports, one of the greatest blows dealt by the pandemic to life on campus was to the cultural clubs of the Institute, with repercussions that could last years - especially for the performing arts. As the Dance Club’s Secretary put it, “A large part of what makes [performing] a fun experience is the presence of an audience, which has not been possible because of the online semesters.”
There was a significant drop in participation across all the clubs over the online semesters. The Music Club told us that the participation was down by almost 50% of the previous years. “What’s the point of participating in online club activities?” is something we hear often in conversation with onboarded students, especially 2nd years. In online semesters, clubs like Quizzing and Debating probably appeal more than clubs that found it difficult to transition online.
These cultural clubs not only have to deal with a lack of motivation, but also a multitude of logistical problems in moving operations online.
With the Covid restrictions still in place, getting the necessary authorizations to conduct events and practices still proves to be very difficult. For instance, the Dance Club is only able to organize hostel-wise workshops for the sophomores. The Drama Club has been conducting regular practices for Street Plays in open areas like the Parking Lot near the Mechanical Department. The Music Club is also considering conducting competitions in SAC Lawns or the Red Square.
Another major constraint which emerged was that of collaboration. It has proved very challenging to edit and synchronize various parts recorded individually into a cohesive whole. This has been especially true for Drama, which “requires a great level of coordination among the people involved to have appropriate actions and reactions, to present a cohesive performance,” but the Music and Dance clubs haven’t fared much better.
All the Secretaries concur that it has proved incredibly challenging to teach 2nd years properly online, and so their skills are not what was expected during pre-pandemic times. They added that the third and fourth years also need to practice and brush up on their skills, but it’s the sophomores who are the most affected.
Another thing that has taken a massive hit is interaction with the societies and clubs of other colleges. Inter-college participation has plummeted and it isn’t clear when it will rise back to normal. The fests’ timelines, which had neatly organized themselves over the years, have been disrupted, and clashes are far more probable now. There is, however, a game plan! The Drama Club has been negotiating with IIT Bombay to work out a timeline for the respective fests, and the Music Club also plans on participating in the DU WMS Showcase to jumpstart inter-college relations again.
In general, though, things seem to be looking up. After onboarding, participation in clubs and extracurricular activities seems to have increased amongst the sophomores. Even among those who have improved their acads, a majority (~56%) also reported an increase in club participation.
And to voice our final and greatest concern - has this pandemic permanently damaged the culture of the Institute?
“People used to pull all-nighters for practices, and those rehearsals served as bonding sessions. That is how seniors came to know juniors, both as musicians and as people.”
It is undeniable that the seniors play a crucial role in mentoring their students, and there has been a break in the continuity of transmission of culture. On interviewing the Secretaries, we also found that there is a disconnect between the sophomores and the seniors.
While acknowledging the possibility of lingering effects, particularly concerning the fact that skill and bonding of the club members does not live up to the pre-pandemic bar, the overall tone is still one of hope. The Clubs are now “prepared to train the upcoming freshers in both cases - the new batch entering offline or online, and the events for them are well-scheduled and well-planned.” [Drama Secy], something which was not all that true for the 2020 Entry Batch.
A look into the COVID situation in other colleges and universities gave us a diverse view on how administration in each institute is directing the functioning of academics, co-curriculars and movement in general. Certain institutes have taken the decision of opening their campuses completely, some are gradually calling students to campus with the vision of reopening campus while others have decided not to keep campus open for undergraduate students.
Most other IITs are open to MTech PHD and research scholars, with laboratory facilities open with strict protocols. Students are quarantined based on vaccination status and limited co-curricular facilities are open to them. Strict regulations are imposed, though their implementation in the field is often lax. In some IITs, resource-constrained students have been allowed to stay in their respective hostels on campus and are free to avail the absolutely necessary facilities provided on campus.
IIT Madras, however, has decided not to accept any undergraduate student, irrespective of vaccination status, for campus residence. Students challenged with respect to online resources have been extended extra support by the administration, through the provision of recorded lectures, books and other resources.
Most students are disapproving of the continuity of online education and have taken to boycotting their online classes, notably those in IIT Kharagpur and IIT Kanpur.
Some other engineering colleges in India have decided to completely open the campus for "back to normal" college, BITS Pilani being one of them. Some other universities have attempted opening campuses to all students in the past, followed by most of them shutting down due to a spike in infected cases.
Universities abroad have taken broad decisions to make campus facilities accessible and open to all students, with basic regulations still being imposed. Certain universities seem to have imposed ridiculously strict regulations on the violation of protocols on campus, a concrete example being Lancaster University, with a fine of close to 10,000 pounds for transgression of protocols. Certain other universities, such as the University of Chicago, have undertaken stern measures on their part to assure safety, involving weekly RT PCR tests of all students and strict actions taken in response to test results.
To get a clearer view of how Institute policies may change as onboarding proceeds, we approached the Dean of Student Affairs, Prof Arvind Nema, and the Associate Dean of Student Welfare, Prof Reetika Khera, and this is what we learnt:
Only vaccinated students are being onboarded, at a rate of about 60-70 students per day, evenly distributed among the hostels. People who had previously requested support are being onboarded preferentially, and the students of the 2020 batch are being given priority as “they have not been on campus, and they deserve a chance to experience the culture of IITD.”
With vaccinations done, the Institute is trying to approve as many requests as it can, and the hostels are now being filled to their original capacities. To combat the pre-pandemic overcrowding, three new hostels, with a total capacity of 1200 students, are expected to be completely built by the end of December.
To contain the possibility of an outbreak, strict fines and restrictions are being imposed. To deal with any unfortunate eventuality, Gulmohar Guest House has been converted into an isolation facility.
Although there are no hard deadlines for the complete onboarding of all students, the authorities are hoping to have the majors offline.
As for the Rendezvous, we can expect it to occur in a hybrid fashion next semester. Even if it’s completely offline, the number of people attending will be restricted, and not up to pre-pandemic levels.
An unexpected positive outcome of the online semesters seems to have been an increase in seeking of help and counselling, “perhaps because more students may feel comfortable seeking help when they do not have to be present face to face.”
Both Deans stressed repeatedly that students should continue to follow the Covid protocols as that is the safest, quickest and smartest way to normalcy.
Normal - A word we’re all tired of hearing, and yet we keep coming back to it - it so well describes that familiar feeling from two years ago. As we approach the light at the end of this long tunnel, we’re all trying, in our own way, to reconstruct this normal.
At the outset of this article, we questioned what this new normal looked like, and tried to understand just how we’re doing, trying to regain normalcy. There are signs that we’re getting there. The wheels of academics are turning just a bit more smoothly in a fresh environment and the added boost of campus resources. Our interactions are no longer with tiny faces on our devices, but with the actual living, breathing people behind them. The once desolate sports grounds on campus are now slowly beginning to bustle with activity, and even clubs which were hit the hardest by the pandemic, are slowly finding their feet.
But as we looked deeper, we found that the scars left by COVID are apparent on this new normal. The restrictions regarding masks and social distancing serve as a reminder to all that we still live in the shadow of the pandemic. The return to campus hasn’t been smooth for all - the comfort of home and the sense of belonging is no longer at one’s disposal. The offline setting has been a stern test of online friendships and relationships. With regards to sports and clubs, there are genuine concerns over student participation and a lower level of bonding amongst team members. It is clear that there is quite a distance between the normal and its new avatar.
In our search for the normal, there’s no set path for us to follow. So what comes next? Perhaps the best way forward is to not hold on to the past - yes, things aren’t back to what they were, but will they ever be? We don’t know. But is returning to the old normal the only option? Or can we, the IITD community, shape our new normal into one that’s better than anything before? That is a question we leave you to ponder, dear reader.