Olympics vs COVID-19: Where Indians’ Qualification Dreams Stand

Four months to go for the Tokyo Olympics and 4,700 of the 11,000 qualification spots have no names against them.

March and April were scheduled to be the months that were going to see the most athletes book their berths for the summer Games but the coronavirus outbreak has forced all qualification events to either be cancelled or postponed.

So, what does this mean for the sportspersons who have dedicated the last four years of their lives with a single-minded focus on Tokyo? Does the IOC have a contingency plan to fill up the remaining quotas?

Ongoing talks between the International Olympic Committee, national federations and Sports bodies this week haven’t resulted in a solution even as some of India’s top sports stars’ future hang in the balance.

Also Read: IOC Discussing Plans for 43% Olympics Berths Still Unclaimed

Badminton

In badminton, the top 16 players in each category make the cut based on their rankings from the May 2019 - April 2020 window. PV Sindhu and Sai Praneeth, with their World Championships medals, had earned enough points to be assured of a spot in Tokyo, even by the time the calendar hit 2020.

Saina Nehwal and Kidambi Srikanth’s was a different story. Both players faced an uphill battle and despite their decision to pass on lucrative Premier Badminton League league contracts to focus on the international circuit, the Indian stars could add very few points to their tally after repeated first and second round exits.

Saina and Srikanth both currently are placed 22nd in the ‘Race to Tokyo’.

What doesn't help their campaign either is that the BWF tour is currently suspended till 1 April forcing the cancellation of at least 5 tournaments that fall in the rankings window. No tournaments mean no opportunity to win points and climb their way into the top 16.

Also Read: Safety Overlooked For Financial Reasons: Saina Slams All England

Athletics

With only a handful track and field athletes having made the cut for Tokyo so far, many were banking on tournaments in the summer to meet the qualification mark. Including India’s fastest woman – Dutee Chand.

The sprinter was supposed to be in Germany from 2 March, training and competing in events but the coronavirus outbreak forced her to cancel those plans with the training facility asking her to not make the journey.

The Indian Grand Prix and Federation Cup in Patiala scheduled for March and April too have been forced to be called off after a government directive on 19 March to all sports federations that instructed them to not conduct any trials or events till 15 April.

The cancellation will also affect the training plan charted out for Hima Das and Jinson Johnson.

Also Read: Dutee Chand’s Olympic Qualification Under Risk Due to COVID-19

Wrestling

Vinesh Phogat, Bajrang Punia, Ravi Kumar Dahiya and Deepak Punia have all locked their Tokyo berths but but more Indians are waiting to make the cut, including two-time Olympics medallist Sushil Kumar.

There were two more qualifying events in the sport - the Asian qualifying event from 27-29 March that was first moved from Xi'an, China to Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan before eventually being postponed. The world qualifying event and also the last chance to claim a spot for Tokyo was originally scheduled from 30 April to 3 May in Sofia, Bulgaria but that event has now been postponed to June.

The four Indians who have booked berths in Tokyo so far have done so through their performances at the 2019 World Championships where all medallists also were awarded with berth at the summer Games.

Also Read: Wrestling: Coronavirus Forces Postponement of Asian Oly Qualifier

Ending a 10-year dry spell, Sharath Kamal won the Oman Open in March 2020.

Table-Tennis

Over 26 table-tennis events across the world have been cancelled or postponed so far, following the coronavirus outbreak. This includes the Asian Olympic qualifying tournament that was scheduled to take place from 6 to 12 April in Bangkok and leaves India’s paddlers in a tough spot with none having booked their berths so far.

However, table-tennis is one of the sports that has the biggest draws at the Olympics with 86 men and women competing in the singles events.

With each National Olympic Committee allowed to send in two singles entries and one qualified team, Sathiyan Gnanasekaran, Achanta Sharath Kamal and Manika Batra look like the three who have the best chance to make it to the Games.

Kamal is India’s most decorated TT star but silverware had evaded him for the last decade. That dry spell was ended on 16 March when he clinched the Oman Open title, his first since the Egypt Open in 2010. As his career seems to have found a second wind, the 37-year-old is forced to sit home under self-quaratine for 15 days after his return from Muscat.

Also Read: Sharath Kamal Ends Decade Long Title Drought, Lifts Oman Open

Tennis

Every Olympics for the last decade has been preceded with a controversy in the Indian tennis camp over the selection of the mixed doubles and men’s doubles teams. However this time, not much is being heard from the camp firstly, due to the coronavirus and secondly, due to the drop in form of India’s doubles specialists.

Leander Paes announced at the start of the season that 2020 is his ‘#OneLastRoar’ but apart from some final appearances at second-rung tournaments and an early exit from the Australia Open he doesn't have much to show in the way of points or performance. Rohan Bopanna is also struggling to make the cut and it may just coming down to Sania Mirza’s women’s doubles ranking for India to make the cut in the mixed doubles event.

The cut-off date for tennis qualification for Tokyo is 8 June 2020, the Monday following what was scheduled to be the French Open. However, the tournament has now changed dates to later in the year and now falls out of the qualification window and on Wednesday the ATP and WTA made a massive announcement, canceling all tournaments till 7 June.

Also Read: ATP & WTA Extend Tennis Season’s Suspension Till 7 June

Weight-Lifting

This event perhaps has the most complicated qualification procedure for the Olympics.

The International Weightlifting Federation’s (IWF) official website states the following guidelines the lifters need to adhere to, in order to make the cut.

  1. Participation at a minimum of 6 Eligible Events
  2. Participation at a minimum of 1 Eligible Event at each of the 3 following periods:- Period 1: 01 November 2018 – 30 April 2019- Period 2: 01 May 2019 – 31 October 2019- Period 3: 01 November 2019 – 30 April 2020
  3. Participation at a minimum of one (1) Gold Level plus either one (1) Gold Level or one (1) Silver Level events
  4. Their ranking as on the 30 April 2020.

India’s two top lifters Mirabai Chanu and Jeremy Lalrinnunga are now in a position where the Asian championships in Tashkent, Uzbekistan from 16-25 April has been postponed, making them miss out on valuable points from the ‘gold level’ event.

Mirabai Chanu is a 2017 world champion in the women's 49 kg category and bettered her own national record at the Nationals in Feb 2020 when she lifted a total of 203 kgs to bag the gold. She is also a gold medallist from the 2018 Commonwealth Games and India’s top medal hopes in Tokyo.

Seventeen-year-old Jeremy had become the first Indian ever to win a gold at the Youth Olympic Games in 2018 at Buenos Aires and recently bettered his own clean and jerk record at the 35th Senior National Championships.

Also Read: Fulfilling My Father’s Dream: Weightlifter Jeremy Lalrinnunga

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