SAI U-turn after BAI says India not withdrawn from Oly qualifiers

There seems to be a communication gap between the Sports Authority of India (SAI) and the Badminton Association of India (BAI). Just over an hour after SAI announced that the Indian badminton team had withdrawn from this month’s Malaysia Open Super 750 tournament, BAI contradicted the statement saying it was still in talks with the Malaysian government for allowing Indians to compete there. SAI subsequently did a U-turn on its initial statement.

Malaysia has put a travel ban on Indians due to the raging Covid-19 pandemic. But the tournament is important for Indian shuttlers as Malaysia Open Super 750 — and the Singapore Open Super 500 tournament on June 1-6 — are the last qualification events for this year’s Tokyo Olympic Games. The withdrawal of the Indian team from these events would mean the end of hope to qualify for the likes of former world No.1 players Kidambi Srikanth and Saina Nehwal.

SAI seems to have jumped the gun by sending a release of Indian team’s “withdrawal”. “The Indian Badminton Team will have to withdraw from the Malaysian Open, scheduled from May 25 to 30, owing to a temporary travel restriction imposed by the Malaysian Government on travellers from India,” it said in a statement issued at 5.22pm.

BAI contradicted SAI in a statement that it tweeted just over an hour later, in which it said that talks are still on with the Badminton Association of Malaysia and the Badminton World Federation. The BAI said that it has written to Malaysia and Singapore, where the Singapore Open will be held, to consider Indian players as a special case.

“Indian nationals won’t be allowed in Malaysia as well as in Singapore, this is already in public knowledge. This is why we had written to both the member countries to consider our request as a special case with respect to the Olympic qualification of some of our players. The matter has been taken up with BWF as well and we are awaiting Badminton Malaysia’s response. Until they decline any possibility, we will continue to pursue every opportunity that we have to send our shuttlers,” said BAI secretary-general Ajay Kumar Singhania.

SAI later issued a “correction” at 7.29pm in which it said that talks are still on between the Sports Ministry and the Malaysian government.

“The Sports Ministry, through the Ministry of External Affairs, has approached the Malaysian Government requesting to grant permission to the Indian badminton team to travel to Malaysia to participate in the Malaysian Open scheduled from May 25 to May 30. This is in light of a temporary travel ban that has been imposed by Malaysia on travellers from India, owing to the rising Covid 19 cases in India,” said SAI in its second statement.

“After the initial request made earlier this week, the Indian High Commission in Malaysia has received information from the Malaysian Government that the travel of the team may not be possible immediately. However, with 19 days left for the competition to begin, the possibility of travel cannot be ruled out completely,” it said.

All top Indian singles and doubles players like PV Sindhu, Saina, Srikanth, Sai Praneeth, Satwiksairaj Rankireddy, Chirag Shetty, Ashwini Ponnappa and Sikki Reddy are expected to compete in Malaysia.