Badminton first. A young Malaysian side missing the services of ailing legend Lee Chong Wei recovered from 2-1 down to beat India 3-2 in the Sudirman Cup on Tuesday.
Chow Mei Kuan and Lee Meng Yean were the heroes for Malaysia after winning the final-rubber women's doubles. Chow and Lee were 19-15 down against Ashwini Ponnappa and N Sikki Reddy in the second game, but fought back to win the game and take Malaysia to the cusp of the quarterfinals.
Earlier, Lee Zii Jia, the 21-year-old who replaced Lee Chong Wei in the tournament, defeated Sameer Verma in men's singles. After the win, he said, "This is a team event and I had to take responsibility and win, and I'm proud of it."
India are now under pressure to perform better. They now need to beat 10-time champion China to progress at Malaysia's expense. SIkki Reddy seemed optimistic about India's chances. She said, "We played Chen Qingchen and Jia Yifan at the Asian Games, it was a close second game...We have an idea of how they play. It's their court, we have nothing to lose."
Indian athlete Gomathi Marimuthu, who won the 800 metres gold at the Asian Championships last month, was handed a provisional suspension yesterday after testing positive for a banned substance.
The 'A' sample of the 30-year-old runner from Tamil Nadu returned positive for a steroid in the test conducted during the Asian Athletics Championships in Doha. If her 'B' sample also tests positive, she faces a maximum ban of four years, on account of it being her first doping offence, while India will lose the gold she won at the Asian Championships. India had won three gold, seven silver and seven bronze medals in the Asian Championships.
Worryingly, PTI reported that Gomathi had earlier tested positive for a banned substance in the sample the National Anti-Doping Agency collected in Patiala during the 15-18 March Federation Cup. But that was not communicated by the national anti-doping watchdog on time. An AFI official told PTI on condition of anonymity, "We have no idea why the NADA did not inform us on Gomathi's dope positive result to us before the Asian Championships. There was more than one month's time in between... that report is yet to reach us even now, after more than two months.
That report is on the way, we have told. If the report was handed to us on time, she would have been stopped from taking part in the Asian Championships and the country would have been saved from this humiliation."
Veteran Indian boxer and six-time world champion Mary Kom made a successful return to the 51kg category by overwhelming her opponent Mala Rai of Nepal to reach the semi-finals of the India Open boxing tournament on Tuesday.
Playing in front of a packed home crowd in Guwahati that cheered her on, Mary Kom wasted little time earning a 5-0 win.
Such was the aura of Mary Kom that even her opponent showed no regret in the loss as she was seen sporting a broad smile hugging the Indian boxing idol in excitement. After the match, Mary said, "It's also a learning experience for me. The Nepal opponent was experienced and quite strong. I'm glad to be back in India. We all are trying our best to make the country proud." The celebrated Manipuri boxer had opted out of the Asian Championships last month in order to prepare for the World Championships. She will be up against fellow Indian and Asian Championships bronze medallist Nikhat Zareen in a blockbuster semi-final as the duo confirmed two medals for India in the tournament.
Strandja Cup gold medallist Nikhat was equally impressive with a flurry of punches against compatriot Anamika in her 5-0 victory. She will now face her idol as she seeks to avenge her South Asian Games defeat to Mary Kom in the semi-finals. Nikhat said, "I was nervous nervous last time but this time I'm well prepared and hope to give my best."
Strandja Cup silver medallist Manju Rani kept attacking her opponent, Cleo Claveras Tesara of Philippines right from the start to earn a win by RSC (Referee Stop Contest) in Round 1 to move to the 48kg semi-finals.
In the men's draw, Haryana youngster Pawan Narwal outsmarted Youth Olympics gold medallist Brian Arregui Agustin in the 69kg category as all the five boxers in the men's section advanced to the quarter-finals.
4) In football news, Azerbaijani authorities gave assurances on Tuesday that Arsenal's Armenian midfielder Henrikh Mkhitaryan can play in the Europa League final against Chelsea in Baku, dismissing fears over his safety due to tensions between the countries.
Azerbaijan's foreign ministry spokeswoman, Leyla Abdullayeva, said, "In spite of the difficult relations between Azerbaijan and Armenia, Mkhitaryan can play in the Europa League final in Baku. Armenian sports figures have already taken part in numerous major sporting events that Azerbaijan has welcomed previously. One shouldn't mix up sport and politics."
Earlier yesterday, Arsenal announced that Mkhitaryan, who is captain of Armenia's national squad, would miss the game next week in Baku amid safety fears. The General Secretary of Azerbaijan's Association of Football Federations, Elkhan Mamedov, said last week that "the Azerbaijani authorities have provided UEFA with guarantees of Mkhitaryan's safety."
Azerbaijan and Armenia are locked in a decades-long conflict over the disputed Nagorny Karabakh region. Despite a 1994 ceasefire, frequent exchanges of fire along Karabakh's volatile frontline risk escalating into an all-out war.