No malls, no walks, no stepping out at night.
On its arrival in Hong Kong, where a fresh bout of violent pro-democracy protests have entered the fourth day, the Indian badminton contingent was handed a list of guidelines to follow while taking part in the World Tour Super 500 tournament at the Coliseum stadium in Kowloon.
For the shuttlers, it’s turning out to be a “different experience”.
“The moment we landed, we were handed out sheets where they had given us some guidelines,” says Chirag Shetty, one half of a talented doubles pair with Satwiksairaj Rankireddy.
“Basically, the instructions (from local organisers) are to stay indoors as much as possible. And to not go out because of the protests. There are places around our hotel that have witnessed protests. So they asked us not to visit those places. The hotel is right next to the stadium but even then, we were asked to take the bus because walking down is not safe,” says the 22-year-old.
Tsim Sha Tsui, the main shopping hub with its eateries that is a regular haunt of Indian shuttlers on the world circuit, is also out of bound after dusk. “We’ve had to finish our dinner early or go to a nearby mall for food. They asked us to avoid going there (Tsim Sha Tsui) at night because usually that place has a lot of protests,” says Shetty.
Some of the players had also hoped to visit a popular Apple store near the team hotel, but could not as “it has been shut for the last three days”.
Shetty and Rankireddy reached Hong Kong Monday from Fuzhou where they made the semifinals in the China Open. Late Wednesday night, the pair lost its opening match against a Japanese duo. Of the other Indian stars in the tournament — P V Sindhu, Kidambi Srikanth, Sourabh Verma and Parupalli Kashyap — only Srikanth is still in the fray.
“There’s a lot of difference this time. Last year, we could roam outside freely, even at 10-11 pm, and the place was
extremely lively. This year, a lot of shops are shut, the roads are emptier, and we hardly see any traffic,” says Shetty.
The Hong Kong protests began five months ago over a contentious extradition Bill that would have allowed criminal suspects to be sent to mainland China for trial. The Bill has since been withdrawn but the agitation has continued with protesters demanding amnesty for those arrested and an independent inquiry into alleged police brutality.
For India’s shuttlers, Hong Kong has been a happy hunting ground. In 1982, Prakash Padukone won the first edition of the tournament. Saina Nehwal is another past champion from 2010. And Sameer Verma was part of a memorable final in the autumn of 2016.