National C’ship: Bizarre scheduling leaves players angry

Mindless scheduling of matches saw the Thursday’s matches at the National badminton championship end at 3 am on Friday.

B. Sai Praneeth's match began past midnight.   -  Akhilesh Kumar

After shooting, badminton attracts the maximum financial support for training and international exposure from the Government. The glossy Premier Badminton League along with the seriously competitive India Open super series and Syed Modi Grand Prix are the events that the Badminton Association of India organises with the players’ interest in mind.

But the on-going National badminton championship here provided a horror of sorts when the mindless scheduling of matches saw the Thursday’s matches end at 3 am on Friday.

If top seed and defending champion B. Sai Praneeth was seen warming up for his match past midnight, Anand Pawar, seeded four, took the court at 1.30 am. Second seed Sameer Verma, being at the bottom of the second half of the draw, warmed up accordingly for his match that began at finally at 2.40 am!

Unlucky Verma

In short, at hours when these title-contenders were expected to sleep well, they were made to warm up for their matches. “I have played late night matches but not in the National championship,” said Sai Praneeth and continued, “There have been couple of occasions when I was the second seed and had not choice but to play the last match of the day. This time, I was a shade lucky. Sameer Verma was not.”

Pawar also made no secret of his displeasure. “It’s our National championship and players are being made to play so late? I have never started a match at 1.30 am.”

No wonder, some of the leading names find a timely reason to stay away from this championship, year after year.

Why were some of those ranked in the world’s top-50, and their opponents, be made to play at these unearthly hours?

It must be said that as host, Chandigarh has offered four-star accommodation to players, reasonable dining facilities and six-court hall good enough to hold the premier championship. But on the technical front, better sense should have prevailed.

As per the President of the Chandigarh Badminton Association and former Chief coach T. P. S. Puri, “only if the Chief Referee had asked for more courts, such a situation could have been easily avoided. We have three more courts ready at the Sector 42 Stadium. We were told the schedule could be late but the matches ending at 3 am is most unfortunate.”

'Shocked'

Learning from the experience of Friday, the BAI has decided to go back to its original five-day schedule for the next edition allotted to Patna.

The BAI secretary (Tournaments) Punnaiah Choudhary said, “I was shocked to learn that the matches went till early morning. We were told by the Chief Referee that the matches for the day would finish by 11 pm. If there was a delay, the ladies matches should have been shifted to Sector 42 stadium or deferred to Friday morning. Playing two rounds on the first day was the biggest mistake. What happened was unfortunate. I feel sorry for the players.”

Chief Referee Gaurav Khanna had his own explanations. “What could I do? The schedule was delayed by 90 minutes due to the Opening ceremony. Thereafter, the matches lasted longer than expected. The authorities decided that only the final could be played on the last day. That left me with no choice to hold two rounds for singles on each of the first three days since both sections had a draw of 128.”

On Thursday, 231 matches were played between 8.30 am and 3 am on Friday. Eighteen umpires supervised the matches, with Gaurav Dhanda topping the list with 19 as against the average of about nine a day in such competitions.

As one of the seeded players summed up, “I felt less like a player and more like someone working in a call centre – sleeping during the day to work till morning!”