In Focus

The Curious Case of the Return of Topflight Badminton

By: Editor
Date: 21 Sep, 2020
Image Courtesy: GoBadminton
In the middle of March 2020, with the All England Championships underway, there was growing calls from players & fans alike to implement the global lockdown as other sports did, and not endanger the safety of players, officials and fans, of course.

Six months later, a numerous high-profile event cancelled, and possibly a few more – the return of topflight badminton action still seems a bit of a pipe dream. While a number of other sports – football, tennis, cricket, and basketball – have all managed to stage a comeback, salvaging seasons and giving fans a much-needed dose of their favourite game, badminton has struggled to do the same.

Three-weeks ago came the announcement that international badminton will return with the Thomas & Uber Cup in Denmark to be followed up by the Danish Open & Denmark Master, a couple of tournaments in Asia after that before a season-ending World Tour Finals. For just a brief while, it looked like the worst was indeed behind the sport and there would be a return to topflight badminton sooner than later.

And then started a bevy of nations lining up one, after another to withdraw from the Thomas & Uber Cup; a growing call of concern from players and then the eventual & inevitable call off of the tournament. Alongside the cancellation of the last major international tournament of the year, BWF also cancelled the Denmark Masters, while the Danish Open is currently a go.
That leaves us with one European event, two Asian events and the World Tour Finals to look forward to before the proposed end of the season for 2020. Amongst these, the Danish Open is unlikely to see any major Asian starts in participation, with largely European players making in the numbers.

With three-weeks out, one cannot say anything with any certainty, it wouldn’t be surprising if the tournament does get an axe. PV Sindhu, Sikki Reddy & Ashwini Ponnappa have already announced they are pulling out of the tournament.

"Going only for Denmark Open is not worth taking the risk given the number of pandemic cases there,” said PV Sindhu. 

Doubles specialist Sikki Reddy echoed similar sentiments, “Had there been at least two tournaments we could have gone. Going there just for one tournament is risky.”

Players are also wary of the 14-day quarantine on return, which could disturb their also curtailed training regime for the year. 

Singles star HS Pranoy also called into question the lack of clarity on the safety measures that is causing uncertainty amongst the players. He bemoaned the lack of a clear coherent strategy.

"Right now, there isn't a lot of clarity. For each sport, the challenges are different. When the first tournament is held, there might be some hiccups and there will be a lot of questions surrounding it. Let's see how the Denmark Open goes and it will give a fair bit of idea on how things might be in the future," said Prannoy.

Currently, Srikanth Kidambi, Saina Nehwal, Parupalli Kashyap, Ajay Jayram, Shubankar Dey and Lakshya Sen are the likely players to participate in the Odense event. They will need to provide the Badminton Association of India with a consent form undertaking full responsibility for their travel and participation during the pandemic. And while the players have done so, some of them might still rethink their plans as the tournament gets closer.

The Asian leg of the tour has its own share of hassles, with the venues yet undecided and some potential ones in their own turmoil. Bangkok is a possible destination, but the political unrest in the city might make it challenging. 

So right now, there hurdles aplenty to the restart of topflight badminton while, solutions seem too few. A distinct disadvantage for Badminton is its indoor nature with mandatory air-conditioning, and completely closed environs which make it a very risky affair. Alongside the huge contingent of participants, coaches and support staff, multiple matches in the arena at the same time – all potential hazards in the making.

Right now, there is much cause of worry, but the situation will require some quick thinking, deft planning and a herculean execution for us to see Badminton came back in the same manner as the rest of the sports have!

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