The badminton fraternity should take a leaf out of what other sports like tennis have done to restart competitions — possibly with lesser prize money and without worrying about TV audience — amid the COVID-19 pandemic, according to former player-turned-coaches U Vimal Kumar and Arvind Bhat.
A spate of withdrawals by top badminton nations has led to the cancellations of the Thomas Cup and Uber Cup and thus the sport missed out on a chance to restart its calendar that was halted in March. The two competitions were to be played from october 3-11.
Twice national champion Vimal Kumar felt that the financial situation of most badminton players outside of the top bracket is not too different from what is the case in tennis. “Players who are below the top 20 in badminton are struggling just like the lower ranked players in tennis. But everybody has started playing, including the top players," Vimal told IANS.
Vimal, a former national coach, said the top players in India need to realise that they would have to start competing sooner than later so as to not lose their edge. “Everyone needs to understand at that level is that they needed competition, they would lose their edge. If the likes of Saina Nehwal and PV Sindhu go to compete without any match practice they will not survive. Learn to live with it, this virus is not going away," he warned.
Bhat, too, wanted badminton to take a lesson from tennis. “Tennis has done really well in terms of having done the US Open. So many other sports have been taken care of. They show it on television and are not too worried about getting a live audience. They do it with lesser prize money or whatever and I think there is a huge push for the Badminton World Federation (BWF) to start holding tournaments instead of cancelling them," Bhat told IANS.
Bhat also said that players need to put their training to use at some point. “Players have been training quite a lot, especially in places where things have opened up, like Bengaluru, they have been training for four months. So, there has to be a tournament for them to test themselves otherwise there is no aim for them to train for. If there are tournaments, then they will know about their weaknesses, they’ll win or lose and they can work on all of it," he said.
“Secondly if tournaments are more and more delayed, the prize money and endorsement money is not coming because they will say it is related to your image and your tournament results. All these people who have contracts, they wont be getting paid because tournaments are not there. Equipment is not being sold and then there will be problems with kits and that leads to financial issues."
Vimal said he is disappointed with the attitude of the dominant badminton nations and top players towards restarting the sport.
“This was the best opportunity for badminton to restart," he said. “The community itself let that go, the Asian federations have decided on it. I would blame some of the top players; they also are not looking forward to play. BWF did a good job. A couple of years back, I wasn’t happy with the way they handled a lot of things but here I have to say, they have done as much as they can.
“It’s because of the pandemic, sponsors have been cutting down. Players’ individual contracts have come down by half. Definitely the players are losing out no doubt about it. The established lot can sustain for some time but for them also it is a huge loss. More than that, players at the top level don’t have competition. It is not good."