Where to fit Nationals amid packed 2018 badminton calendar?

Neither has BWF released its final schedule nor has BAI published its complete roster for the year 2018. But one thing is certain: the players, especially the cream of them, are going to have a tough time.

Climb too steep? India’s top badminton players like national champion H. S. Prannoy (in picture) are likely to have a tough and busy year ahead.   -  V. V. Subrahmanyam

Badminton Association of India (BAI) could still well be patting itself on the back for carrying out a hugely successful national championship in November last year. It had everything going for it - participation of all the top players, a hefty prize purse for the winners and a stupendous crowd support in Nagpur.

But that was 2017.

Neither has BWF released its final schedule nor has BAI published its complete roster for the year 2018. But one thing is certain: the players, especially the cream of them, are going to have a tough time. The BWF has come up with a stringent rule on the number of tournaments that the top-15 players have to play in each level of competition, to make up the mandatory 12 tournaments in a year; besides, it is planning to test out the controversial service rule - which is highly skewed in favour of short players - and a new points system from the All-England Badminton Championships in March.

And then you have the prestigious Commonwealth Games scheduled for April, which will again require extensive preparations. To top that, the Indian players have the Asian Games in September to consider for national pride and another round of high-profile PBL to combat in the latter part of the year, not to forget the World Championships.

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Yes, we do need a national championship to help grow the sport in the country. But how do you fit in a national championship in this packed calendar for 2018?

“For badminton’s growth, you need to give it back to the sport. It's really important that we play tournaments where people can see you ‘Live’ on Indian courts. In Nagpur, the crowd was just stunning. You had 3000-4000 people coming for national championships. Such kind of events need to be done,” national champion H. S. Prannoy said after arriving in the city for the Chennai leg of PBL on Thursday.

‘Just have to accept it’

While stressing on the importance of national championships, Prannoy reluctantly added this as an afterthought: “But when you see the amount of tournaments top players play, something needs to be done..(or) We just have to accept it and [move] on.”

But Kidambi Srikanth had recently admitted that playing the national championship soon after winning two marquee events spoilt his chances for the Dubai Finals. His worn out knee gave up soon after the Nationals and the injury break affected his momentum going into the season-ending premier event where he couldn’t progress to the knockouts.

So that begs the question: What time is the right time to host the national championship?

“This is one sport where we have little bit of time to time to train in February-March and then you have a busy season ahead. You can shuffle it anywhere around the year and it is still going to be the same. There is hardly any time where you can put in any tournament,” the 27-year-old said.

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“There are so many players who opt out of certain tournaments to play so many other tournaments. It's tough but I don't know how to manage it.”

The problem of packed schedule is not restricted to just the top Indian players. Sportstar caught up with World No. 1 Viktor Axelsen to find out how he balances his national commitments with the unforgiving international calendar. “National championships in Denmark happens around February-March. When you are playing so many tournaments, you have to prioritise which tournaments you want to play well in and of course it can be hard to prioritise,” the world champion said.

BWF the priority for Axelsen

But he minces no words while stating out his order of priority. “BWF definitely comes first. Even though Nationals is important, there are more important tournaments,” he said.

But a contractual obligation with the sports federation means the World No. 1 and his compatriots have no option to skip the Nationals. “We have a contract with the federation to participate. But no prize money.”

But he has found his way around it. “I will be playing, but it is not like I will be arranging my training to play my absolute best at the Nationals,” he said with utmost honesty.

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Indian players can’t afford to make such statements or take the Nationals lightly; neither the fans nor the federation will be appeased by it. What’s the way forward for the top Indian players? Will it be better suited to have a nationals at the beginning of the year, much before the start of premier international tournaments?

Considering the Nationals were held in November last year, an early date is unlikely in 2018.

Will it be wise to push the players to play these tournaments in a year loaded with a maddening BWF schedule, Asian Games and Commonwealth Games? Will BAI give the top players the choice to skip national championship this one time? Would it be better to push the Nationals by a few months and schedule it early next year? It will be interesting to find how BAI schedules the event this year.