Pullela Gopichand
Pullela Gopichand

Badminton officials and players across the globe have roundly criticised the game's international governing body, the Badminton World Federation (BWF), for going ahead with the All England Badminton Championship which was held at Arena Birmingham in England from 11 to 15 March 2020, in the face of the unfolding coronavirus pandemic.

Joining the chorus of protest was none other than chief Indian badminton coach Pullela Gopichand. "I think All England was risky, looking at the conditions there,” he told The Free Press Journal from Hyderabad on Friday.

"The current scenario is bad and the numbers of afflicted are telling,” he said. “Conditions were not up to the mark, given the threat looming at the time of the championship.”

Many have said the organisers put profits before players' welfare by allowing the event to happen.

“It has not majorly affected us, we have been lucky in that regard, but organising an event of this magnitude during a global outbreak of COVID-19 was uncalled for,” said Gopichand.

“There was no need to put the entire badminton fraternity at risk. The way things are happening in the UK is unfortunate. I maintain, it was not the right time to organise a major event like this when the pandemic was advancing,” signed off Gopi.

However, Thomas Lund, secretary general of the BWF insisted the decision to play the tournament, one of the biggest of the season, was based on the best advice at the time.

A member of Taiwan's team tested positive for the virus after returning from the tournament, and it was inappropriate to go ahead with the All England while many sports events were suspended, detractors hold.

In an open letter, Lund said, "It has been very disappointing to see some members of the badminton community speculate on the sincerity and motives of the BWF in this time of crisis. ...Our number one concern has always been the health and safety of all of our participants.

"However, at the same time, we are deeply concerned about the cancellation of tournaments and the flow-on effect this has on elite players and coaches whereby they could now be in a position of temporary unemployment and loss of income," says Lund's letter.

"Financial reasons were given more importance,” said the former world No. 1, Saina Nehwal, while HS Prannoy, one of the several Indian players who skipped the tournament, told the Indian media, "They are only worried about money," while Denmark's Mads Conrad-Petersen said he was "worried and ashamed that All England was played under completely normal standards".

"Of course, hindsight is a wonderful thing. It was not difficult to argue that 'wrong decisions' had been taken in an environment changing on nearly an hourly basis, with further decisions therefore required," wrote Lund.

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Free Press Journal