Explained: Why Britain’s Covid-19 crisis could hit Sindhu’s plans in the new year

With restrictions on flights from the UK, and Sindhu needing to be in Bangkok on January 3, it is looking increasingly difficult for India's top player to make the trip to South-East Asia.

As exiting Britain becomes increasingly difficult because of the escalating coronavirus situation with 40 countries – and counting – banning airlines from UK, international badminton has lurched into uncertainty again. India’s world champion PV Sindhu has been training in the UK for some months now and was supposed to travel to Bangkok in January. She will now be at the mercy of travel regulations in both countries as she attempts to resume competition at the Thailand Open scheduled for the second week of January. Thailand has also seen a tremendous single-day spike in cases putting the whole three-tournament series in jeopardy, though Bangkok isn’t in lockdown.

What is the Sindhu situation?

The reigning World Champion and finalist at the Rio Olympics has been in UK since October, first for a series of nutrition tests and then training with the England squad. However, with restrictions on flights from UK, and Sindhu needing to be in Bangkok on January 3, it is looking increasingly difficult for India’s top player, along with other British players, to make it to the two Super 1000 events in Bangkok where she was scheduled to resume competition. Returning to India is impossible with flights from UK barred now, and Thailand is expected to impose strict restrictions – albeit specific ones for England, Wales and Scotland.

With the All England scheduled for late February, the to-and-fro becomes a tricky decision, especially with no qualification points up for grabs in Bangkok. Sindhu, however, has qualified for Tokyo.

What is the situation in Thailand?

A lockdown has been imposed around Samut Sakhon, a province near the capital Bangkok, as up to 40,000 people are being tested with Thailand scrambling to mitigate an outbreak that has infected nearly 700 people at a seafood market. The epicentre of the new outbreak threw up 140 more cases, as the country recorded its biggest daily spike of 548 cases.

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What tournaments are open for Olympic qualification?

The Indian Open Super 500 in Delhi from May 11-16 will be the last qualification tournament for the Tokyo Olympics, according to the fresh schedule firmed up by the Badminton World Federation.

A total of 17 tournaments across the world are part of the qualification process, though only 5-6 will see top players target qualification. Two Super 300s (Swiss – March 2-7 & German Open – March 9-14), two Super 500s (Singapore & India), one Super 750 (Malaysia Open – March 31 – April 4) and a Super 100 at Orleans have points up for grabs. The Badminton Asia Championship (April 27 – May 2), with its venue yet to be decided, is also included in Tokyo qualification.

What does this mean for Saina Nehwal, Kidambi Srikanth, Lakshya Sen and P Kashyap?

While both Saina and Srikanth are readying to travel to Thailand, their real test starts in Basel on March 2.

However, the big push for points comes from March 31 (Malaysia Super 750), Singapore (Super 500 from April 13-18) and in Delhi (May 11-16). Crucially, the three Super 1000s (two in Thailand and the All England) have nothing to offer if they are chasing qualification for Tokyo. The other alternative is criss-crossing the world for minor tournaments which involves travelling. Ideally, post Thailand, the Swiss, German, Kuala Lumpur, Singapore and Delhi tournaments is where the duo will look to strike for their points.

What are the financial implications on the 2021 season?

The BWF release stated: “There is also the possibility to reduce total minimum prize money for 2021 in the effort to reduce costs.” A 20 per cent reduction in prize money is estimated throughout 2021 in circuit events, affecting player earnings.

Has vaccinations been factored in?

“Although the hope is that the COVID-19 vaccine may in time create a world with less restrictions, BWF expects that the pandemic will still influence tournament hosting throughout the whole of 2021,” the world body said.

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