"Indian woman shuttler forced out of Orleans Masters after Covid-19 case in team entourage," read a PTI headline last night.
This was the fifth such Covid-19 related episode involving Indian badminton stars in recent times. Or was it the sixth time? Or seventh? Surely, one has lost the count due to the frequency with which such scary incidents are taking place.
N. Sikki Reddy tests positive
It all started in August last year when the doubles star N. Sikki Reddy and the team physiotherapist Kiran Challagunda tested positive for the virus after restarting their training following the ease of lockdown restrictions at the Pullela Gopichand Academy in Hyderabad. Though both of them were asymptomatic and recovered quickly it did create a lot of fears in the Indian sporting fraternity.
How did Satwiksairaj contract the virus?
Just days after this yet another doubles player, Satwiksairaj Rankireddy, was diagnosed with the virus. This forced the 20 year old Commonwealth Games medallist to completely miss the virtual national awards where he was conferred with the prestigious Arjuna Award. How Satwiksairaj contracted the virus remained unknown to media as it was made clear that none of his family members were positive.
Three shuttlers forced to withdraw from SaarLorLux Open
This was followed by a completely unrelated incident in October 2020 when three shuttlers – Ajay Jayram, Subhankar Dey and Lakshay Sen were forced to withdraw from the SaarLorLux Open Super 100 event in Germany after Sen's father and coach, DK Sen, who was travelling with the team was tested positive. This led to all the three players stuck in quarantine in Germany with the Sports Authority of India (SAI) deciding to compensate for the financial losses burnt by the players.
Pullela Gopichand Academy under the scanner
Later in December 2020, the Pullela Gopichand Academy was once again in the centre of attraction as four top men's players – Parupalli Kashyap, HS Prannoy, RMV Gurusaidutt and Pranaav Jerry Chopra were reported to have tested positive for the virus while training at the academy. It was speculated that the players might have contracted the virus when all of them attended the wedding of Gurusaidutt, but no further information was released to the media.
If you felt all of these incidents were messy, mind you, the messiest of the lot was yet to come.
The mess in Thailand
Having reached Thailand for two successive tournaments, the Yonex Thailand Open and the Toyota Thailand Open, the Indians were left scratching their heads.
It all started when two shuttlers, Saina Nehwal and HS Prannoy were reported to have tested positive after the third round of testing in Thailand before the Yonex Open and were asked to withdraw from the tournament.
In an already tense environment things turned from bad to worse for the Indians at Thailand as Kidambi Srikanth was left with a bloody nose, following one of the tests.
The Indian took to twitter to express his disappointment and wrote, "We take care of ourselves for the match not to come and shed blood for THIS. However, I gave 4 tests after I have arrived and I can't say any of them have been pleasant. Unacceptable."
It was later revealed that both Nehwal and Prannoy were tested positive falsely and following the intervention of Badminton Federation of India (BAI), the entire Indian contingent was cleared to play the tournament.
Mess in Thailand Pt.2
But, just days after the end of Yonex Thailand Open and just before the start of Toyota Thailand Open, Sai Praneeth was tested positive for the virus. While Praneeth had to withdraw from the tournament, his roommate and former World Number 1, Srikanth too was forced to withdraw from the tournament by Badminton World Federation (BWF) despite of him being tested negative. In the end, better sense prevailed and Srikanth was allowed to compete in the tournament.
All England scare
If none of this was enough, the Indians were yet again under the scanner during the All England Open which concluded in the last week when 3 players and a staff member were reported to have tested positive, while the results of many others inconclusive. A retest was conducted following which all the Indians were cleared to play in the tournament.
What is going wrong?
There seems to be something terribly going wrong at the backend before the start of each and every tournament for the Indians and there is no idea as to what is. Players and fans alike have similar questions – How are players being tested positive before and then negative just a day after? Are the tests being conducted not of the required standards? Is the BWF to blame for what has been happening?
On the other side, the BAI and the players need to be scrutinised as well. How did players training at a national camp test positive? Are the required precautions not being taken?
There are countless questions but no satisfactory answers from anyone. But, with the race to Tokyo tighter than ever, the results of every single tournament is going to be important. Under such circumstances, it is imperative that the BAI steps in and investigate what has been going wrong or prevent such incidents from happening again. For, each tournament missed is an opportunity lost to reach the Olympics.