Indian badminton players pull out of All England amidst Coronavirus fears

Shivani Naik
Satwiksairaj Rankireddy, Chirag Shetty, Chirag Shetty badminton india, Satwiksairaj Rankireddy india, india badminton olympic 2020, olympic 2020, indian express sports news

Satwiksairaj Rankireddy and Chirag Shetty are amongst seven Indians who will not travel to Birmingham.

Sport in the time of Covid-19 is a humbling competitive retreat for some, while others will forge ahead taking risks and hope to stay safe, according to shuttler Chirag Shetty. The top doubles shuttler pulled out from the March 11-15 All England on Thursday morning after a "four-times increase" in Coronavirus positives cases in UK within a week.

Partner Satwiksairaj Rankireddy is amongst seven Indians who will not travel to Birmingham, alongside singles stars HS Prannoy, Sameer Verma, Sourabh Verma as well as the other doubles pairing of Manu Attri and Sumeet Reddy.

"We spoke to coaches, BAI and SAI in the morning. A few parents too were skeptical. In our case we had almost qualified so it was not important to risk it," Shetty said.

Those seeking qualification like Saina Nehwal and K Srikanth are scheduled to travel as of now, as are PV Sindhu and B Sai Praneeth, whose qualification isn't under threat. "It's a very difficult choice for players. We were unsure about the tournament itself being cancelled or not. We decided not to travel," he said.

READ | Coronavirus: BCCI dials sports ministry for advice on IPL

UK had recorded 115 cases by mid-Thursday, and authorities were moving from the "contain" stage of dealing with the virus outbreak to "delay" after media reported there was evidence of the virus spreading between people who had no connections to foreign cases or returning from overseas travellers. UK's chief medical officer Chris Whitty was quoted by Business Insider as saying "an epidemic is the country is now highly likely."

Satwik-Chirag had missed the first four months of 2019 to injury, so they aren't defending any points either and reckoned it was a straightforward choice. The Indonesian contingent had announced it will travel full-strength on Thursday evening, but situation is being monitored by the hour.

The Hyderabad camp itself is disbanding with most players heading to their hometowns. "There have been few cases in the academy vicinity, so we are definitely going back home for a week. If things improve we'll go back or I've asked Saatwik to travel to Mumbai and we'll train there till India Open," Chirag said. "This week, we will train at our respective hometowns."

READ | Coronavirus and Cricket: How safe is IPL 2020?

Shetty said that though Birmingham city was safe per se, travel was a risk. "The most vulnerable places are airports. But chances of contracting the virus should you come into contact with an affected passenger are 100 percent," he said.

Being quarantined, a worry

He said travel posed various challenges. "It's not deadly for most people. I'm personally not scared. But even if you're running a mild fever or have temperature, you'll be put into quarantine." It's cold and rainy in England, and Shetty says those are not conditions conducive to the virus subsiding.

While Shetty has penned in India Open as a certainty (should the tournament itself go ahead), he stressed that even Singapore and Malaysia would be calls the players would take carefully. "The Asian Championship at Manila towards end of April should be alright because there are no new cases so they seem to have contained the spread. Europe though it's increasing by the day. There's a rise by 30-40 cases in no time," he said.

READ | Coronavirus impact: No ranking points in shooting World Cup

Indians might run into trouble at the Asian meet though on account of the number in India. "Philippines had blocked Chinese and HK players for the Asian team event. Now India has equal number of cases as those countries then. So I don't know if they'll let us Indians in now," he said.

Junior team heading back

The Indian juniors travelling in Europe for the German Open have decided to cut short their stay and return home. "They were told they'd have to stick to hotel and play matches in stadium, and no chance of practice, which is a sort of a semi quarantine. It wasn't ideal so they are coming back," a BAI source said.

Fourteen singles players and six doubles pairings, all top juniors, were in the German draw after playing the Dutch juniors last week. They will return home.