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Wednesday, June 03, 2020

In face of coronavirus uncertainty, P Gopichand wants shuttlers to focus on performance

BWF, with a chunk of its top players coming from east Asian countries, is currently trying to salvage its European spring swing of events including the All England and Swiss Open.

Written by Shivani Naik | Updated: March 2, 2020 9:11:21 am
Gopichand, Pullela Gopichand, Badminton coach, Coach of Saina, Sindhu, Badminton players, Indian Express              Pullela Gopichand, a Dronacharya awardee, is credited with grooming PV Sindhu, Saina Nehwal, and K Srikanth among others. (Source: File Photo)

National coach Pullela Gopichand has asked his shuttlers to cut through the clutter of uncertainty over tournaments being cancelled due to the coronavirus pandemic, and focus on the only variable within their control: their own performance.

A host of shuttlers in singles — Saina Nehwal, K Srikanth, HS Prannoy, as also Sourabh Verma, Parupalli Kashyap, and Lakshya Sen — are chasing Tokyo Games qualification. And owing to either injury, recuperation, wretched form or plain schedule planning, have left it till late. The qualification period ends April 30 and with the alarming spread of the virus, are staring at unprecedented last-gasp jitters with tournaments facing cancellations. Gopichand insisted staying focused on delivering when they take to the court would be the viable approach.

“I think for us to think too much would be very difficult in an environment where tournaments are not sure. Your performances are the only thing you can think of. Prepare well. And hopefully, when you get the chance be at the peak of your performance. I think that’s all one can say,” he said.

Caught in this last-minute scramble, Kashyap took to Twitter late on Saturday, urging the Badminton World Federation to reconsider qualification rules so that those who were hoping to catch on get a fair chance.

The BWF spokesperson said, “No further comment,” on Sunday. This was after stating that there were no plans currently to alter the rules: basically, finishing in Top 16 by April 30 helps two shuttlers qualify in both singles. “With particular reference to Olympic Qualification, BWF is not at this time planning to make any adjustments to the regulations related to the Olympic Qualification period,” it had said earlier.

Gopichand says it’s not going to be an easy call to take for the world body. “BWF has mentioned that any change would mean that it’ll benefit somebody and somebody else loses (out). So it’s gonna be a tricky situation how they deal with it. Because any decision will have pros and cons and will benefit some and not the other. It’ll be detrimental to somebody or the other. So it’s gonna be a tough call for them.”

READ | How Indian shuttlers’ qualification chances are affected due to coronavirus

Kashyap, himself in contention, but also worried about Saina’s fortunes given he believes she’s two good tournament results away from qualifying, has said that the home stretch has assumed humongous importance.

He had written: “We all had 7 events starting from Spain masters until the Singapore Open n few have the Asian Champs too. Now that German open is cancelled and Swiss Open looking doubtful and Singapore n Malaysia opens also with the same worries, it’ll be completely unfair for so many athletes who are on the borderline of qualification at this moment. 7 events are a lot of events considering the best 10 performances in a qualifying period are chosen.”

For those who took a chance by nursing their injuries at the start of the qualification period, hoping a sprint in the end could make up for the lost points earlier, the virus outbreak has hit them hard. If these were the precise 7 tournaments a shuttler had targeted out of the 10 planned, their campaign could lie in tatters.

Kashyap’s lament came after BWF had taken a not inconsiderate call, saying, “Any change to the existing Olympic qualification rules will affect different players both positively or negatively, and with the present level of postponement and cancellation, BWF does not believe that making changes is appropriate.”

Parupalli Kashyap, himself in contention, has said that the home stretch has assumed humongous importance. (Source: PTI Photo)

The world body, with a chunk of its top players coming from east Asian countries, is currently trying to salvage its European spring swing of events including the All England and Swiss Open after the German event was cancelled.

Public health authorities are dictating tournament schedules more than the governing body.

However, players feel hard done by because beyond the cancellations, certain tournaments like the continental Championships are unevenly poised. The Asian Individual Championship looks in trouble, but its European equivalent in Ukraine offers equal points and might just go ahead.

Cancellations can hit players from all countries hard, and this isn’t just a problem limited to Indians hoping Srikanth can rally and shore up his chances on the last stretch. Equally on the borderline is China’s No. 2 singles player Shi Yuqi, who missed out a bulk of late last year to injury but is defending a lot of points. He was amongst the few Chinese not opting out of the India Open scheduled for March 24 even as Chen Yufei withdrew.

READ | ‘Extend Olympic qualification period’ Saina Nehwal

Even amongst Indians, cancellations can work both ways. Should the rules stay intact, status quo without threat of losing points helps Sai Praneeth, but not the others. While it’s a lot of defending of points for Srikanth, others like Verma, Kashyap or Sen can look for one or two freak jumps to leapfrog the rest.

Gopichand has stayed stoic throughout the qualification period almost presaging the uncertain nature of these races where multiple wards of his are having a stab at heading to Tokyo. While the Covid-19 threat has completely blindsided shuttlers and could not have been factored in a year ago, the coach believes fundamentals will apply going ahead. “As far as players are concerned – (they need) to keep it simple and try to do their best preparations and then whatever chances they have they should try and perform their best,” he said.

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Why changes in qualification rules now would be unfair?

The BWF is not keen on changing the qualification rules trying to maintain fairness, given the rules were known to everyone and almost everyone has played the minimum 10 tournaments that’ll be computed in the best results. However, should they entertain complaints from hereon, they will have a couple of options to go about changing the norms of qualifications. If it is clear that most events will be cancelled going forward (which doesn’t seem the case – no reason why India won’t host), rankings of this cancelled period can be frozen i.e. consider the 2019 results and allow players to take forward the points.

Alternatively, the qualification period can be extended beyond April to take in the Thomas and Uber Cups in May, and Australia, Thailand, Indonesia, Canada and USA in June. This will be a lot of headache for Tokyo organisers needing to work out the draws and other allotments of Olympic berths, though qualifications in Track & Field do run deep into June. However, changing rules this late into the process will be unfair to those who put in the hard yards earlier. However, there is no guarantee extending the qualification period will definitively ensure events won’t get cancelled. The Olympics itself faces the ultimate threat.

UPCOMING TOURNAMENTS:

All England Super 1000
(March 11-15)
The number of cases in the UK stands at 35 and the government is expected to pass legislation next week to tackle the emergency after those who hadn’t travelled abroad were also detected to have caught the infection. The tournament is on as of now.

Swiss Open Super 300
(March 17-22)

Current known cases 22. The federal government expects a rise in cases given those travelling in from Italy and is likely to enforce its stricter law on communicable diseases which might restrict travel.

India Open Super 500
(March 24-29)

Seems to be on in Delhi as of now, though exact number of withdrawals will be known on Monday. Three cases in Kerala have been discharged after treatment, though organisers have fingers crossed and hands sanitised.

Malaysia Open Super 750
(March 31 – April 5)
Total cases 29. Malaysia is monitoring its land borders.

Singapore Open Super 500
(April 7-12)
Reported cases 106, of which 74 have fully recovered. The transit hub has enforced strict regulations. Badminton Asia Championship, China
(Late April) Not on.

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