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Australia ‘Nobody is coping': Ex-Socceroo's seven-month Indian hotel hell

01:40  04 may  2021
01:40  04 may  2021 Source:   theage.com.au

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Former Socceroo Erik Paartalu says he is struggling to cope after having been confined to a hotel room in India for the past seven months, allowed out only to train and play for Bengaluru FC in the Indian Premier League, due to the COVID-19 crisis in the country.

  ‘Nobody is coping': Ex-Socceroo's seven-month Indian hotel hell © AAP

Though the Indian domestic competition ended two months ago, Paartalu has not been allowed to leave the team's biosecure bubble. For the past seven weeks, Bengaluru have been preparing for a continental qualifying match that has no confirmed date.

And if the former Brisbane Roar and Melbourne City midfielder was thinking about fleeing back home to Australia, he now faces the prospect of five years in jail after the government imposed a ban on travel from the COVID-ravaged country.

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"As an Aussie that has lived and worked in India for four years now I have never felt so far away from feeling Australian. I don't know how you can deny citizens to return home especially when there are hotel quarantines in place," Paartalu said on social media.

"I understand everyone's concern with the level of infection over here and the possibility of a new variant. But isn't that the purpose of hotel quarantine for 14 days?"

With his family in Sydney and his wife is back in her native Scotland, Paartalu has no route to freedom, with both the UK and Australia having imposed restrictions on travel from India, where nearly 400,000 new cases of coronavirus were recorded on Sunday. While other foreign players in India left the country when the league finished in March, Paartalu was required to stay on for Bengaluru's AFC Cup qualifying campaign.

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Those commitments were supposed to extend his trip for just another few weeks, but Bengaluru are still waiting to play their qualifier against Club Eagles from the Maldives. The Herald has sought comment from the Asian Football Confederation about the schedule and the players' welfare.

"It's a horrible thing to say but I don't think anybody is coping," Paartalu said. "You get past a point where it just becomes exhausting. We are all past that point now and it just becomes a really sad normality. You have a set routine every day: you wake up, have breakfast, go to training, go to the gym, come back to the hotel, eat, sleep."

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Paartalu's day begins at 6:30am when he gets ready to board the bus to training. He returns to the hotel around midday for lunch. Then it's back in his room, where he'll nap, read or watch TV - a routine he has followed for over half a year.

"You just become defeated," Paartalu said. "None of us have a life. We are locked away, training once a day. We have all lost part of ourselves this year but it could be so much worse."

For some of the people he is in contact with, it already is. While Bengaluru have been locked in a hotel bubble to finish their season, several players and staff have had to deal with the deaths of immediate family members due to COVID-19.

"The situation outside is getting worse. You read the reports and it's hard not to get caught up. People are dying, family of teammates are dying," Paartalu said.

The midfielder knows he's one of the lucky few in India, sheltered from the worst of the pandemic and looked after by a club that has spent a fortune keeping them in a permanent state of quarantine. He has received support from the Australian players' union, but wants the AFC to do more to help.

"We're just being knocked around mentally," he said. "When are we going to play? What are we training for? What does the end look like?"

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