Updated: January 10, 2022 7:52:49 pm
Despite the looming shadow of a third wave, a doubling of reported cases over the past four days and a weekend curfew, Delhi is about to host the India Open Super 500 tournament with the cream of Indian badminton — P V Sindhu, Kidambi Srikanth and Lakshya Sen — expected to compete at the IG Stadium.
Newly crowned men’s singles champion Loh Kean Yew of Singapore has already arrived for the January 11-16 meet, where he is seeded fifth.
The top Indonesian doubles pairing of former Olympic medallists Hendra Setiawan and Mohamad Ahsan, as well as top Malaysians Ong Yew Sin and Teo Ee Yi, have also flown in for the year’s first World Tour event in which around 220 players are slated to take part.
But with just two days to go, a sense of trepidation prevails as India’s biggest badminton tournament, cancelled over the last two seasons, will not be fully covered by a “bio-secure bubble”. While the international stars and top Indians will be housed in a sanitised tournament hotel, a large number of players who are not in the top 25 in world rankings will be outside this loosely controlled arrangement.
Hosts Badminton Association of India (BAI) have assured that they are “doing everything humanly possible to hold a safe tournament”, and the event had received the go-ahead from the Delhi government, which was consulted by the world body BWF when taking a call on whether the tournament should go ahead.
The cost of official hotel accommodation for the top 25, and all other international players, are being borne by the organisers while the rest are expected to spend from their own pockets, which has put the tournament hotel out of reach for most.
“Most players have started arriving in New Delhi for the tournament. The foreign players as well as Indian players, ranked under Top-25 in the world, will be staying at the same hotel. All the participating players will be taking the necessary safety precautions right from their arrival in New Delhi as per protocol, and will be tested every day at the hotel and from there they will be having shuttle buses to come to the stadium, play matches and go back to the hotel again,” the BAI said in a statement.
The association has tied up with a hospital to conduct rapid antigen tests outside the stadium before anyone is permitted entry to a three-level secured playing arena. Besides, Denmark has conducted tournaments in a similar format previously.
While French, Russian and Canadian players have withdrawn from the fray, the England squad pulled out after doubles specialist Sean Vendy and coach Nathan Robertson tested positive before flying out from the UK Friday.
BWF commentator Steen Scheichler also tweeted about a last-minute call against travelling after testing positive. And, India’s singles star B Sai Praneeth and another player, Dhruv Rawat, tested positive prior to departure from Hyderabad and were withdrawn from the event.
It is learnt that a large number of withdrawals could eventually pile up from the initial entry list of three months ago. The final picture will be clear when the managers’ meeting takes place Monday, given that invites have gone out to as far as No 40 on the reserves list.
Sindhu leads India’s charge, and will most likely be challenged by World No 12 Thai Busanan Ongbamrungphan, who posted a departure picture on Saturday from the Bangkok airport, captioning it “Wish me luck”. World champion Loh Kean Yew posted a picture of his hotel room with the words: “Finally here.”
The draw is teeming with Indians, some desperately risking travel and play in search of precious ranking points that are available in these abnormal circumstances.
A mandatory Covid test, daily for all players, match officials, BWF and BAI officials, support staff, vendors and others involved, will happen outside the stadium. “Only after being tested negative will they be allowed inside the venue. BAI will not compromise on the safety of the players as well as others involved, and will be following all the Covid-19 guidelines given by the government,” the release said.
On Sunday, the capital reported 22,751 new cases with the positivity rate climbing to 23.53 per cent: 79,954 RT PCR and 16,724 Rapid tests were conducted and 17 deaths reported even as the daily case count doubled from 10,665 on January 5.
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