A month ago, Pakistan sports officials requested they be allowed to send their South Asian Games bound athletes directly to Guwahati and Shillong in chartered flights. It was more owing to security concerns of travelling by road from Delhi to the twin Northeastern cities. After weeks of deliberation, the Indian government approved the plan, doing away with the policy of allowing Pakistani nationals only by Delhi and Mumbai, if travelling by air.
Turns out, Pakistan hadn’t done their math well. They have now decided revert to their original plan of coming via Delhi, as the officials there realised that if they travel by chartered flights, they will be unable to bear the accommodation cost for their athletes.
Sports secretary Rajiv Yadav said Pakistan has confirmed they will send 400-plus athletes for the Games but to save money, the players will reach only a couple of days before their respective events. “Pakistan had earlier told us they will come by chartered flights directly to Guwahati with all their contingent coming in one go and we have even agreed to that. But now they have changed their plans,” he said.
Pakistan were allowed to reach Guwahati directly via two special aircrafts but that would have resulted in their government paying $30 per player as accommodation in addition to the travel cost, which they were unable to afford. Pakistan is sending 471 athletes and officials for the event. “If all of them are coming in one go, Pakistan Olympic Association will have to give USD 30 per day to all their athletes.
The events of many of them will end early or start in the later part of the Games,” Yadav said. “So, they are now coming in batches and they will arrive in India just like any other country’s athletes. The Pakistani contingent will land in New Delhi from their country and then they will take Indian flights to Guwahati.”
Meanwhile, some of the top shuttlers have written to the Badminton Association of India (BAI), expressing their unwillingness to take part in the Games. The federation had last week announced a full-strength team for the event, with world number 2 Saina Nehwal spearheading the contingent.
However, a Press Trust of India report on Monday said that the players including Saina and PV Sindhu have written letters citing ‘injury and health issues to skip the Games.’ The federation is convincing the players not to withdraw but if they do not budge, they will leave it to the sports ministry to deal with the situation.
The qualification for the Rio Olympics for badminton players will depend on their rankings as on May 5. The shuttlers are keen to improve their positions and hence want to participate in tournaments where they can earn ranking points. Thailand Open, a Grand Prix Gold tournament, is being held simultaneously along with the South Asian Games. While the players are more interested in taking part in the Thailand Open, to be played from February 8 to 13, the federation and sports ministry wants them to play in the South Asian Games (badminton events will be held from February 6 to 10).
Interestingly, according to the report, Saina had already enrolled herself for the Thailand Open before she was named in the South Asian Games squad. The shuttlers are also worried that the South Asian Games will hamper their preparations for the Asian Team Championships, which will be held in Hyderabad from February 15 to 21..’