How concerns over travel and preparations led to BWF’s decision

Shivani Naik

All BWF events have been suspended till April 12. (File Photo)

What prompted the BWF decision?

The Badminton World Federation came under immense criticism from some of the top names of the sport, and took the wise decision of suspending all tournaments till April 12. Hans-Kristian Solberg Vittinghuus first urged the world body to reconsider their business as usual gameface for not pulling back from tournaments, even as the rest of the sporting world shut shop with the Covid-19 pandemic spreading rapidly around the world. While Danish Vittinghus was the first to question carrying on with the circuit (there were 6 crucial tournaments scheduled in a 7-week period), Parupalli Kashyap believed, "the BWF was daring us to risk our health with all the tournaments going on as if nothing's happened" even as the All England forged ahead with the health emergency crumbling all around it in UK which in its bullheaded stubbornness was itself slow to accept that it was in fact not business as usual.

How did Friday pan out?

While the pleading by a bunch of players (Srikanth, Ajay Jayaram and Carolina Marin's coach Fernando Rivas also retweeted Vittinghus' concerns), led to an urgently summoned meeting of some officials from the global body late on Friday, Kashyap said the players staring at a difficult situation worsening by the minute. "Singapore is cancelled, some Danish players are in lockdown in their country and won't be allowed into Malaysia. Indonesians have withdrawn from Swiss Open and we are also going home. Basel will be left with Thais and Taipei players," he said. The cancellation was inevitable.

What were the Indian players' concerns?

Saina Nehwal had lost in the first round at Birmingham and Kashyap withdrew as well, but the 34-year-old stressed that this wasn't only about their qualification. "We are basically giving up on qualifying if we quit the Swiss. And if we are quarantined back home, then anyway India and Malaysia is out. Saina needs a couple of quarters and two semis, and it's not uncommon to qualify in the last few tournaments. But right now this is about the BWF taking a call for its players' health and not making them run around the world chasing points," he had said. While the Indians withdrew enmasse from Swiss Open, with even Ajay Jayaram worrying that he won’t be able to travel from India, Kidambi Srikanth reached India in nick of time to make the deadline before the compulsory quarantine for all travellers set in. "When I tweeted the Health Minister, I wasn't asking for some special treatment to be given to us because we are international athletes. I just wanted clarity. It's not just us, we have to return to ageing parents. We can't risk being infected."

How did the Indians decide on Swiss Open?

The conduct of the Basel Vs Frankfurt Europa match behind closed doors at a stadium right opposite the Swiss Open's St Jakobshalle where the badminton would've happened, helped Indians make up their minds about skipping Swiss and heading home. Tennis, TT, Golf, cricket and football all saw a suspension of playing activity and the Premier League got suspended while BWF was in parleys. "They were a little naive here. But then the Arsenal manager tested positive, and it took their lovely football to be cancelled for them to realise the threat," Kashyap said. "Mind you I love football, but this just isn't the right time to play sport."

Meanwhile players like Viktor Axelsen and Carolina Marin had expressed their doubts about the visa situation to Indian players, fearing they'd be quarantined on arrival for next week's India Open Super 500.

What did BWF decision say?

"The Badminton World Federation (BWF) has taken the necessary step to suspend all HSBC BWF World Tour and other BWF-sanctioned tournaments from Monday 16 March until Sunday April 12," the statement said. "The escalation of the COVID-19 outbreak globally has led the BWF, in close consultation and consensus with its Host Member Associations and Continental Confederations, to cancel or postpone all tournaments in this period due to heightened travel and quarantine restrictions in place and the subsequent extreme logistical complications this causes to the movement of badminton athletes. BWF equally has strong considerations for the health, safety and wellbeing of all athletes, their entourage, officials and the greater badminton community in general," it reassured.

Which tournaments got cancelled?

Tournaments affected include the Swiss Open, India Open, Orléans Masters, Malaysia Open and Singapore Open, as well as a number of international Grade 3 Seriesand Challenge tournaments: in Hamilton, Krakow, Fort McMurray, Moriguchi, Vantaa and Wateringen. The suspension of the circuit would come into effect following the completion of the All England Open in Birmingham on Sunday. The individual Asian Championship at Manila for later in April is still on — perhaps the decision coming at a later date when organisers take stock. Olympic qualification period goes on till April 30.

What's the status of All England?

“Both BWF and Badminton England have been in constant communication with government officials and relevant authorities in the United Kingdom in relation to any possible disruption to the All England Open and both parties are satisfied with the British government’s most recent advisory issued Friday morning UK time to continue with the staging of the tournament. Unless government advice changes, Badminton England remains confident that the robust and comprehensive measures in place before and during the event will minimise the potential risk of the virus.

BWF accepts this position and that all relevant health, safety and logistical risks have been considered by BWF, Badminton England, tournament organisers, and the local government in reaching this decision," the release said. Immense sponsorship obligations and the at-times British obstinacy mean they carry on carrying on even as the world goes into lockdown.

Why's the preparation been less than ideal?

Kashyap said: "It's a messed up preparation for Olympics for everyone. Even the Chinese and others quarantined for the All England were unhappy. They've been in Europe for months eating canned food and just wanting to go home." He said that cancellations would impact players’ finances too. "I understand it's about their finances. But it's also our careers and how falling rankings mean our sponsorship will take a hit. If I fall out of Top 30, my Yonex sponsorship which hinges on rankings plummets. Even BAI will put me out of their funding bracket. So there's several complications if we can't get to tournaments," he had said.

 

What has BWF said about revised qualification criterion?

"A number of the tournaments impacted as a result of the suspension fall within the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games qualifying period. BWF will make a further announcement on regulations related to Olympic qualification points at a later date," the BWF statement said, hinting at a revision.

Kashyap said he was aware IOC had written to all international federations offering to assist with altered qualification procedures. BWF only needs to take up the offer.