The decision by Badminton World Federation (BWF) to defer Thomas and Uber Cups sparked mixed reactions in India. Twice postponed, the cups were scheduled from October 3-11 in Denmark before being moved to 2021.
Subhankar Dey and national selector U Vimal Kumar criticised the decision but HS Prannoy, Saina Nehwal and Chirag Shetty said BWF were right in rescheduling after a number of countries, including powerhouses Indonesia and South Korea, had pulled out due to Covid-19.
India’s participation had faced trouble after PV Sindhu, Chirag Shetty, Satwiksairaj Rankireddy, B Sai Praneeth, HS Prannoy, Sameer Verma and Sourabh Verma had pulled out. Later, Sindhu agreed to play at Badminton Association of India (BAI) president Himanta Biswa Sarma’s insistence.
Prannoy and the Verma brothers had said they weren’t keen on travelling to Hyderabad for the preparatory camp which was eventually cancelled after some players refused to follow the Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) prepared by Sports Authority of India. To that, BAI had reacted by saying entries of players refusing to represent India without a valid reason would not be sent for tournaments.
“The players are all funded by the government — their travel, stay, food, training programme. They have no right to refuse national duty unless they have valid reasons,” said national selector U Vimal Kumar. “Whenever it suits you, you play, whenever it doesn’t, you don’t. Players shouldn’t take things for granted.”
Only players in the sports ministry’s Target Olympic Podium Scheme (TOPS) or those ranked in the top-25 in the world get funding from the government for tournaments.
“It is a very poor, wrong and absolutely terrible decision by the Asian countries, very sad for the sport. In most of these countries, sporting activities are on, everybody is playing and training compared to us. And we were ready to send the team whatever the constraints,” said Kumar, a former chief coach and international.
“Professionalism is lacking in management of sport in these countries. How will you revive the sport? It is a big letdown. Asian countries are the dominant force in badminton.”
Kumar gave the example of the USA which held the US Open despite having the maximum number of Covid-19 cases.
In the team for Thomas Cup, Dey said: “It is bizarre. Other sports are actively happening… Football, IPL, US Open. World No.1 Novak Djokovic played despite being Covid-19 positive earlier. What about players’ motivation, what about their incomes? Now no sponsorship will come. Players are suffering.”
Dey also said he wasn’t sure how many shuttlers would take part in the Denmark Open (Oct. 13-18) now that the Denmark Masters, scheduled for October 20-25, has been cancelled.
Prannoy said comparing the cups with the US Open was not fair because tennis has more resources. “There are so many players who wanted this to happen but there are countries, like India, where things are not looking great (in terms of number of Covid cases). Someone travelling from this part (of the world), there might be a lot of queries and uncertainties on how or what BWF are going to do if someone tests positive.”
Nehwal had earlier questioned the timing of the cups. “Seven countries have withdrawn from tournament cause of the pandemic. Is it safe enough to conduct this tournament during this time?” she tweeted on Sunday, two days before BWF’s decision. Shettty, the world No.10, said: “There was no point in holding the tournament after so many countries withdrew.”