Former world number one Saina and Srikanth are racing against time to qualify for the Tokyo Games, especially after the India Open Super 500 (May 11-16) tournament was postponed due to the unprecedented second wave of the pandemic currently sweeping the national capital and the country.
Just two more Olympic qualifiers are remaining — Malaysia Open (May 25-30) and Singapore Open (June 1-6) — before the June 15 deadline and things look grim for Saina and Srikanth with Malaysia and Singapore deciding to temporarily impose travel bans from COVID-ravaged India.
However, the Badminton Association of India (BAI) said it is trying to work out a solution as direct travel to Malaysia and Singapore will not be possible.
“With the current travel restrictions, Indian players will not be able to take direct flights. We have checked for via routes and the alternatives are either from Sri Lanka or from Doha and Indian shuttlers are most likely to travel via Qatar,” the BAI said in a statement.
“We have already submitted the travel documents of our Olympic bound players and officials for visa processing. Though there is a ban on the issue of visa for Indians except for sports related travel activities, visa is available on certain terms and conditions.
“We are in touch with the Member Associations of Malaysia & Singapore for the necessary documentations.”
Indian shuttlers who have already made the cut for the Olympics include PV Sindhu, B Sai Praneeth and men’s doubles pair of Chirag Shetty and Satwiksairaj Rankireddy.
Besides the quartet, Srikanth, Saina and the women’s doubles pair of N Sikki Reddy and Ashwini Ponnappa are likely to participate in the two Olympic qualifiers.
BAI said it has “written to the respective Associations of Malaysia and Singapore for a clarity on what will be the exact regulations that will be applied on Indian shuttlers while they arrive in these respective countries.”
“Currently as per the laid-out guidelines, for any Indian to enter Singapore, they have to either be in quarantine in a foreign country other than India for 14 days before they will be allowed to enter Singapore,” the BAI said.
“Alternatively all players have to maintain a 21 days quarantine in Singapore. As for Malaysia, for now there is a 14 days quarantine guideline which means, our players have to reach Malaysia on May 10, 2021 to follow the protocols laid out by both the countries.”
Saina, a London Olympics bronze medallist, is currently at the 22nd spot in the Race-to-Tokyo rankings and needs to finish in the top 16 to qualify, while Rio Games quarterfinalist Srikanth is at the 20th position right now.
“I probably have to play a semifinal or a couple of quarterfinals in the last three qualifiers to make it. I’m actually feeling very good about my physical condition at the moment, so it is about going there and giving my best,” Srikanth had said earlier.
BAI said it has “reached out to Malaysian Federation to understand if there are any updated quarantine rules that will be imposed on Indian players.”
“Both the Member Associations and BWF are cooperating and we are in constant touch.”
In another significant development, 14 Malaysian shuttlers have tested positive for COVID-19 so far, according to reports.
The COVID-19 pandemic had disrupted the international calender last year as well, forcing the BWF to cancel or postpone most of the tournaments and also come up with a new Olympic qualifying period.