Rushdee Warley, CEO of Inspire Institute of Sport (IIS) boasts of more than twenty years of experience in the Sports industry which includes coaching, leading the high performance programme for Swimming South Africa, working as a performance consultant for High Performance Sport New Zealand and leading the 2012 Olympic Games campaign for the swimming team of New Zealand. He graduated from the University of Cape Town and followed that up with a Sports Business Program (Management Advancement Program) at the University of Witwatersrand in South Africa. In 1999 and 2000, Rushdee was awarded the Swimming South Africa Development Coach of the Year. Now leading the Inspire Institute of Sport since its inception in 2017, he hopes to ensure that under his guidance, India produces a steady set of world class athletes. Excerpts:
How is IIS combating Covid-19 challenges?
Covid-19 has had a huge impact on not just India but globally. Our first priority was to ensure well being of our people and minimize the risk for everyone. Our facility is secluded from the city which is why we were able to control the incoming and outgoing from IIS. We further started to look at how to minimize the risk by ensuring checking temperature of incoming services and staff. We asked a lot of our staff to work from home. We have a big maintenance team that works around the place and we reduced the number to reduce the contact. The athletes were taking up to cleaning up after themselves as well. We ensured social distancing and stopped contact training. We are sanitizing our gyms before and after use.
How is IIS using technology to ensure wellness of athletes?
We have done a lot of educational programs with the athletes and had several round of discussions with our medical staff around what should be done, what we should be looking at, what good behaviours are around social distancing, hygiene etc. All the athletes have been tested as well so we are quite proactive with all the precautionary measures.
We use an app called Edge10, an athlete management system which we use to monitor our athletes across multiple dimensions. Every morning when the athletes wake up, they have a simple questionnaire which they answer on their Smartphone around how they are feeling; mental health and now for Covid-19 we have added additional questions that could highlight early symptoms of Covid.
The data gets sent over to the staff for evaluation and monitoring wellness of the athletes. Also, the pandemic being a challenging time for the athletes as competitions have been cancelled and there is lot of uncertainty around, it is extremely important for us to monitor their mental health. Generally as well, our athletes have core sessions with our sports psychologist depending on what their need is. Sometimes we do it in groups or on a one to one basis. Nutrition is also very important during this time. We continue to educate our athletes around what they should be eating to boost their immunity, how they should be eating etc.
IIS roped in Herbalife as nutrition partner earlier this year
Do you think enough is being done to raise awareness about mental health among athletes in India?
Mental health is a phenomenon which is being highlighted not just in India but globally. For eg. If you watch Michael Phelps story in ‘Weight of Gold’ and other similar stories, you will understand the kind of pressure athletes deal with.
To speak from my experience here in IIS, we have some young athletes here and we focus on their holistic development rather than just their development as an athlete. We always try to provide them with opportunities to improve their life by making available not just athletic performance programs but also providing them with education. We have included more sports science professionals which include psychologists.
I have seen positive changes happen in India and also, the fact that more administrators, professionals and athletes are talking about mental health and wellness is a good sign. I recently came across a paper by International Olympic Committee (IOC) on mental health and Olympian Abhinav Bindra is one of the authors of the same. So we do have icons batting for the same. However, not just in India but globally we have a far way to go to instill the importance of mental health.
Tell us about your latest partnerships.
We are supported by JSW Foundation which is the brainchild of Parth Jindal who is extremely passionate about sports. When you have that kind of support, its fantastic. We have some other really good partners supporting us. We roped in Herbalife earlier this year. We have IndusInd Bank, Citi Bank, Kotak bank as well among others. All these corporates have come on board to support the young athletes as they realize that these athletes are role models of many in India.
What are the future goals of IIS?
At IIS we believe that Indian athletes can come and have access to world class facility and experts who can help them to perform to their potential. We hope more athletes could join us. We have support of states like Odisha. We are also recognised as Khelo India centre as well as the National Centre of Excellence. Sport is becoming an opportunity that allows for nation building and it is an exciting time to be part of the Indian sports.