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23 days to Tokyo Olympics: FIH Medical Officer Dr. BK Nayak 'can’t sleep' till he delivers the games successfully

Image - Dr. Bibhu Kalyan Nayak
Image - Dr. Bibhu Kalyan Nayak

For an army man, being inducted as the FIH Medical Officer for Tokyo Olympics 2020 is a great honor. With the ongoing pandemic and so many restrictions around it, this Olympics will go down in the history books as one of the most difficult games to execute. Doctors will have a major role to play in ensuring the safety and security of players and staff.

To learn more about the guidelines and SOPs for the Tokyo Olympics, Sportskeeda had an exclusive chat with FIH Medical Officer Col. (Dr.) Bibhu Kalyan Nayak.

Here are the excerpts from the interview:

1. How does it feel to be the first Indian to be appointed as the FIH Medical Officer for the Tokyo Olympics 2020?

Dr. BK Nayak: I come from a very humble background. All my schooling has been done in Odia medium schools. Coming from a small district of Odisha and being the FIH Medical Officer at Tokyo Olympics 2020 is indeed a proud moment for me and my family.

I would say, everything that I have achieved is because of the blessings of Lord Jagannath. I have always tried to stay grounded and I believe that has been my key to success.

2. You are an army officer. How did sports happen to you or how do we relate army, doctor, and sports?

Dr. BK Nayak: Usually people in the army are always fit and I always had a passion for sports. Luckily, from the start of my career, I got to work with sportspeople and as I was good at administration too, I always traveled with the teams as a doctor-cum-manager.

I started my career with the Sub Jr. Army Boxing team and with each passing day, I kept on improving myself. I really didn’t think I would ever reach here, but then hard work always pays off.

3. We understand sports came as a consequence because of being in the army. But why hockey? Did hockey choose you or was it the other way around?

Dr. BK Nayak: In 2009, when Hockey India was formed, the then coach of the team, Jose Brasa, wanted a Team Doctor. He specifically wanted someone who already had 4-5 years of experience in sports. And, as everyone knew me because of my work, I was given a call for the interview and Brasa selected me for the job. So, I can say that, “Hockey chose me”.

Also Read: PR Sreejesh is experienced enough to handle pressure, says former Indian hockey goalkeeper and Olympian Dr. AB Subbaiah

4. How tough has the Road to Tokyo been? What hurdles have you had to cross to reach this stage?

Dr. BK Nayak: So, I was the Head of Physicians for the 2016 Rio Paralympics. I have also worked in the Hockey India League (HIL) several times as a League/FIH Medical Officer. Everyone has seen my dedication to work. Luckily the tournaments which I have chaired have always been pulled off successfully.

When I got selected as the FIH Medical Officer in 2019, I was called to Tokyo for a test event. A tournament was conducted with 4 men’s and women’s teams each, which gave me a broad idea and a bit of confidence on how Tokyo Olympics 2020 is going to be.

Dr. Nayak with high-jump medalists Mariyappan Thangavelu and Varun Bhati at Rio Paralympics 2016
Dr. Nayak with high-jump medalists Mariyappan Thangavelu and Varun Bhati at Rio Paralympics 2016

5. What would be the challenges this time inside the bio-bubble and with restrictions all around?

Dr. BK Nayak: The first and most important thing – everyone will be tested every day. Even if someone from the contingent or games comes out positive, we have to ensure that, it isn’t a case of false positive.

To ensure that a player or support staff doesn’t get false positive, we have a Result Analysis Expert Group (RAEG) which will determine the test results. I have also been nominated as a member of this group.

6. Can you explain to us in detail what is a “False Positive” case and the exact role of RAEG in eliminating it?

Dr. BK Nayak: A false positive is when someone who doesn’t have COVID-19, tests positive for it. So, to make sure that a player doesn’t miss out on a match if he is false positive, this Result Analysis Expert Group is formed.

"The group has back-up mechanisms to check false positive cases. The medical history of the players, if they ever were COVID-19 positive and if the anti-bodies have already been formed or yet to be formed, has to be checked."

For example, a player had gotten positive 3 months back and he is found to be positive again during the games. What we will do is, will quickly check his papers and see if that infection is still there in his body or if it is a normal non-spreading infection. If it’s a new infection and can hamper other players and contingent, then the Japanese government will take over from there.

The biggest challenge for this group would be to make sure that no player or support staff misses out on a match. Finding the result in the shortest period and making sure that the infection doesn’t spread, would be the biggest task of this group.

7. What would be the challenges for you this time and how are you preparing to manage it?

Dr. BK Nayak: As the FIH Medical Officer, my job is to ensure the safety and security of players both on and off the pitch. For this tournament, I have to stay updated with the different guidelines that are coming in with each passing day.

Different countries have different approved vaccines. Every vaccine has a different composition. I need to read and understand all the important factors, like pre-COVID-19 and post-COVID-19 measures to avoid any kind of mishappenings.

To understand the test results, I am studying all the different factors needed to ensure that a player isn’t false positive. I also need to check if the medicines brought in by the teams are in order and don’t have the composition which could potentially lead to doping.

Also Read: Why do the Indian Hockey teams have only one goalkeeper for Tokyo Olympics 2020?

8. Your message to all the team doctors and physicians of different teams on how they should manage their players

Dr. BK Nayak: I would advise all team players and doctors to make sure that the players and staff are following all COVID-19 protocols and SOPs. For them, to ensure that the bubble isn’t breached would be a humongous task. If there is any hospital emergency, they have to be very vigilant and keep an eye on every small thing. Increasing awareness among players by giving them lectures or by any means would be equally important.

"Players have been waiting for 4 years to play the biggest tournament of their life. Because of this pandemic, the duty of doctors has increased 1000 times. A single mistake by any individual can lead to the failure of the entire tournament."
Dr. Nayak at Hockey World Cup 2018
Dr. Nayak at Hockey World Cup 2018

9. Would this be the biggest assignment of your entire career?

Dr. BK Nayak: Undoubtedly, yes! I have taken up bigger tasks but nothing would be as challenging as this. As the days for the games are coming closer, my heartbeats are getting faster. It won’t be an easy task to complete the 17-day challenge, but yes, I am up for it.

"I am ready to jump all the hurdles and come out of the bubble with a successful COVID-19-hit Olympics to my name. I would need everyone’s blessings to make this happen. The job looks glamorous but there isn’t anything more challenging than this."

I won’t be able to sleep till I deliver the Tokyo Olympics 2020 successfully. I feel I will have to take sleeping pills to sleep peacefully at night (he laughs). Any single mistake would be our failure, and if we come out of the bubble successfully, there would no one as proud as us.

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Edited by Diptanil Roy
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