The 2021 Tokyo Olympics is less than six months away, almost 40% of the athlete quota places across all disciplines are yet to be earned. In a race against time, the Sports federations are in a fix, whether to stage the qualifiers or leave the final rankings to decide the fate of the aspirants.
It was a few days ago that the Boxing Task Force of IOC (International Olympic Committee) decided to call off the final qualification round in Paris, citing challenges due to the Covid-19 situation. Unfortunately, for India – who were expecting four berths from the event - now have their hopes on how the selections are made.
Unlike the above situation - where foreign travel was scrapped altogether - Indian Badminton stars had to encounter a situation entirely different, in Thailand. Back-to-back tournaments lined-up at the Asian country meant it was serious business for the contingent ahead of the Tokyo Games. As per the visiting players were monitored constantly, while the bio-bubble was inevitable.
Even though the opening tourney sailed away smoothly, Sai Praneeth, Saina Nehwal, and HS Prannoy tested positive for the virus just before the succeeding one. While Saina and Prannoy’s subsequent reports inferred that they had developed antibodies, Praneeth - the world no. 13 - was not allowed to take the court in the second tournament. Surprisingly, when he was shifted to quarantine facilities, the Olympic aspirant came to know that his results were actually negative, but it was too late for him to take part in the meet.
One of India’s medal prospects in the upcoming Tokyo Games – Chirag Shetty was also in the thick of things back in the capital city. Although he did not face harsh circumstances like his compatriots, he was well aware that the world is not the same anymore, with much more in store in the upcoming days.
“The turn of events did have an impact on the players, especially Indians because we had two positive cases in back-to-back weeks. The first day was definitely difficult because all of us were in a state of shock, because we did not know what would happen, whether we were going to be allowed to play in the tournament,” said Chirag Shetty, during an exclusive chat with SportsCafe.in.
“In the second event, when Sai (Praneeth) tested positive, we were not allowed to use the gym, nor were we allowed to roam around in the hotel. We straightaway had to come back to your room after the matches got over, so, yeah; it was definitely difficult, including staying inside the bubble.”
With the Covid-19 pandemic still looming over everything, the fate of the mega-event is hanging by a thread even though it hasn’t been called off. With several global meets already curtailed, everyone is anxious to find out how the organisers will pull-off the coup. A great deal of it depends on whether the athletes are willing to take the risk of international travel and staying at the Games village with more than 11,000 others from around the globe. But, an assurance of a safe environment might change hearts.
“Well, I don't know about the athletes, but as for me, if the Games provide a safe environment, I think everybody will go ahead with the event because any athlete would not want to miss out on the Olympics but yeah, the safety and health issues surely comes first and foremost, so if all the athletes are promised of a safe environment then I don't think anyone would want to miss out,” informed the athlete.
To attain such the optimum situation, vaccination is the only way out. But, injecting the dosage to each and every soul set to touch Japanese soil calls for a huge challenge. India – always vocal regarding their stance - have assured that the Tokyo aspirants would be vaccinated on priority. That’s just one half of the story. Albeit, athletes would always carry a monkey on their shoulder even if there is the remotest chance of contracting the virus in a foreign land.
“It will be really good, if all the players, support staff and the players, coaches and the support staff set to stay at the Games village are vaccinated, it will be a safer environment. It reduces the transmission of Covid-19 to a great extent. So, if I think if everybody is vaccinated, it will be really good for the Games,” opined the current world no. 10 in men’s doubles rankings
In the midst of all the confusion, the shuttlers have hardly shifted their focus and are aiming for maximum quotas at the Tokyo Olympics. Their practice sessions have not been truncated, while the on-court activities as going on as usual, even though players are hesitant to shake hands to avoid transmitting the virus.
“Well we are at the closing stages of the Olympic qualification events and right now we have three spots definitely cemented which are the men’s singles, women’s singles and the men’s double. There are three more spots which I feel there’s a possibility that we can qualify like the women’s doubles. If we perform well in the upcoming qualifying events, we might add to the Olympic contingent,” explained Shetty.
With months away from the spectacle, athletes are losing vital prep time (with qualifiers being cancelled), which might have a drastic effect win the final showdown, especially Indians - who are prone to stage fright. Fortunately, the Indian Badminton stars are set to resume their quest with the Swiss Open, followed by the 2021 All England Championships – both of which offer ranking points for Tokyo Olympics qualification.