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Tokyo Olympics: How Indian shuttlers’ qualification chances are affected due to coronavirus

With German Open cancelled and the outbreak threatening to disrupt even more tournaments upto cutoff of April 30th, precious qualifications are on the line.

Written by Shivani Naik | Updated: February 29, 2020 8:35:31 am
Saina Nehwal Saina Nehwal is currently training in Denmark. (AP/File Photo)

With high morbidity striking the world at a tragic pace in the form of Corovid-19, sport is but a trifle. But caught in the uncertainty just six months before the Tokyo Olympics, are the qualification campaigns of India’s shuttlers. With German Open cancelled and the outbreak threatening to disrupt even more tournaments upto cutoff of April 30th, precious qualifications are on the line.

Here’s a look at how the gloomy picture looks:

Worst-case scenario: No events take off. What happens then?

India will then be limited to those who are in the safe zone at this moment: Sindhu is at No. 6, Sai Praneeth is at No 11, Satwiksairaj Rankireddy-Chirag Shetty are at No. 8. Those losing out will be Saina Nehwal at No 22 who needs around 12000 points and Kidambi Srikanth at No. 23, needing approximately 15000 points from whatever tournaments they can turn up at to be in Top 16 for automatic qualification. The permutations concern far too many variables of other players to be exactly computed.

READ | Why rescheduling or cancelling Tokyo Olympics will be a logistical and financial nightmare

What is the status of upcoming tournaments? 

While German Open was crucial (Polish, Vietnam & China Masters where top Indians weren’t playing were also cancelled), the real massive point hoarding (defending) is to start with All England, which was scheduled to go ahead at the time of writing though developments are being monitored closely every hour.

The Asian Championship in China is sure to be cancelled, while Malaysia and Singapore will be on the edge. The Swiss Open is not affected as of now. The Indian Super 500 has resultantly attracted its best field in several years.

Should international players from China and affected areas undergo quarantine ahead of All England, there should be no problem for the Indian event thereafter, according to Indian organisers.

Why is it crucial for Srikanth and Saina?

Both are camped in Denmark currently and videos emerging from the national centre show both are looking sharp and raring to go. However, both will bleed points in case of more cancellations.

Srikanth needs to defend his semifinal place from last year, especially and points from finals in India. Sourabh Verma and P Kashyap are in fact in better striking distance of qualification (at 20 & 22 respectively) and marginally ahead of Srikanth, and with all the cancellations might sneak ahead in a freak leap should a good result jump up, though both are nursing niggles.

READ | Coronavirus spreads to football’s schedule, closing stadiums and stranding teams

What’s the deal with Swiss Open?

Though Sai Praneeth is defending points from finals last year, he won’t get dumped out of 16 if the event faces a cancellation. After a positive case of a person in Geneva returning from north Italy, the Federal Council has categorised the situation in Switzerland as particular in terms of the Epidemics Act.

Large-scale events involving more than 1000 people are to be banned. The ban comes into immediate effect and will apply at least until 15 March 2020.

B Sai Praneeth, Sai Praneeth World Championship bronze, Sai Praneeth Bronze medal, Badminton World Championships 2019, badminton news Sai Praneeth.  (Source: Reuters)

However, Swiss Open starting two days later on March 17, is on. Geneva motor show was postponed by six months. However, the organisers of the Swiss Open and Swiss Badminton “are in close contact with the relevant national and cantonal authorities and will provide information should there be any changes to the current situation or to the requirements imposed by the authorities,” according to the website.

READ | Sports events affected by coronavirus outbreak

What about All England?

Currently authorities are not advising changing plans, though the evolving situation is prone to quick changes. While two Badminton England medical officers will attend to teams in two different hotels, a fully serviced medical centre is readied. The tournament and good results there can propel Srikanth and Saina into a relatively safe zone as this is a Super 1000.

Kento Momota is absent, and the Chinese have agreed to a 15-day quarantine ahead of the tournament. In the middle of all this, PV Sindhu is being talked up to win the event if she’s primed for it in preps.

What is BWF’s conundrum?

While the world body insists it will not change qualification criterion, it might come under pressure to review its process should no event take off from here on due to cancellations. While Indian interest is hooked to Nehwal and Srikanth, Chinese Shi Yuqi returning from injury is also gasping at No 21 in ranking point race during the qualification period. The world body isn’t risking disturbing the existing method as of now though.

Why are Indian organisers punch pleased?

India has lucked out with shuttlers thronging the Super 500 to pick points on the home straight. Eight of women’s Top 10 singles shuttlers — Chen Yufei, Akane Yamaguchi, He Bingjiao, Carolina Marin, An Se Young, Ratchanok, Michelle Li besides Sindhu and Saina will be in action making it the best field in India since the 2009 World championships. Viktor Axelsen is here to prop up his points along with a desperate Shi Yuqi of China and Son Wan Ho, making life tougher for Srikanth.

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