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BWF's 'cramped' calendar for 2018 season raises fitness concerns among players and coaches

“People will see me as a villain if I stop the players from going to tournaments. But you have to understand that it’s very important to train and prepare well. You should space your tournaments well. Scheduling affects the whole world but we have the Commonwealth and Asian Games," – National coach Pullela Gopichand.

“Next year’s schedule by BWF is too cramped, it is not right for the top players. I need more time to get the best out of me. I can’t play back-to-back events. I can just participate but can’t win,” – Olympic and World Championships medallist Saina Nehwal.

“Players are going to find it difficult to maintain consistency next year. The pressure will be on the top players and coaches to be ready for so many tournaments,” – Vimal Kumar, former coach of Saina Nehwal.

"As we know, it is already a cramped schedule; and, at the international circuit, one should be careful not to overdo things, to remain injury-free. If your injury gets serious, you'll end up missing action for six months. So, all the top players should sit down with their coaches, and pick tournaments they will play, well in advance,” – Former World No 1 and All England Open winner Prakash Padukone.

The 2018 badminton season has barely begun but Badminton World Federation's (BWF) schedule has already caused a stir among the players, coaches and fans alike. The revamped schedule makes it compulsory for the world’s top 15 players in the singles events and top 10 pairs in the doubles discipline to play a minimum of 12 tournaments. The structure of these tournaments in the annual calendar has been divided into different grades and levels.

 BWFs cramped calendar for 2018 season raises fitness concerns among players and coaches

File image of PV Sindhu and Carolina Marin. AFP

But what if a player wants to skip an event to in order to prepare for upcoming major gigs? Well, they will have to pay a hefty price if they fail to comply. “For each tournament, the fine is $250 US dollars and if we miss three events in a span of a few months then you are fined up to $1000 US dollars,” Commonwealth Games gold medallist Parupalli Kashyap told Firstpost.

According to the new rule, the lower-ranked players will miss out on a chance to play at Grade 2: Level 2 tournaments — All England Open, Indonesia Open and China Open — as only the top 32 players qualify for the main event. Kashyap, who was out of action for almost a year, feels that the workload will be too much to handle for the lower-ranked players to make the cut at major tournaments as a qualifier. "We were surprised looking at the schedule and the number of tournaments. I'm back from a lengthy injury now but a player who is ranked below 40 will have his task cut out to be eligible for a tournament like All England. So, there are a few rules which I don't understand."

As the season is expected to be tighter, the players have a race against time to get in shape and fix the chinks in their armour. Also, the only option the shuttlers have here is to plan the tournaments well in advance. "In the coming days, Gopi sir will have a discussion with all of us as the number of Superseries tournaments are a lot more than before. At this point, planning and choosing tournaments wisely are key," said Kashyap.

Meanwhile, the addition of tournaments is not the only worrying thing at the moment for the players as the top dogs are slated to fight it out at the Asian and Commonwealth Games next year. A huge challenge in itself, bearing in mind the competitive and hectic schedule. "If you qualify for the Asian Games, Commonwealth Games and World Championships, things will only get tougher," rued Kashyap.

The qualification for the Olympic Games, World Championships and Thomas and Uber Cup are based on rankings, meaning players have no choice but to invest time and of course, money, in search of the all-important points. "It's going to get tougher because of the Commonwealth and Asian Games," Saina said before adding: "When you play a tournament like the World Championships, half of your energy is invested there and when you have yet another major tournament lined up in a space of two weeks, then you are challenging yourself mentally and physically."

This says a lot about the need for mental and physical preparedness before crossing swords at showpiece events. Saina, who spoke to Firstpost earlier about the already cramped schedule, stressed on the fact that players won't be getting sufficient time to practise and hence it could lead to multiple injuries. “After the Premier Badminton League (PBL) we have three tournaments. Again before the World Championships, there are three Superseries, so I am not understanding why BWF decided to go for such a schedule. It will be too tiring, too challenging, ” she complained.

Gopichand too has been quite vocal in his opposition to the idea of getting the players to play so many tournaments as the players are prone to injuries and inconsistencies in form. Hence, there have been questions raised about the system and the impact it will leave on the players.

Lastly, it is far more difficult for players who are coming back from an injury and looking to better their rankings in order to play in major events. Players like Ajay Jayaram and Kashyap, who have been struggling injuries since last year, now have a tough route to enter the top bracket of the rankings. "Players need to maintain their fitness too. As professional athletes, you always want to stay in the game for long and avoid over-training," concluded Kashyap.

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Updated Date: Dec 21, 2017 20:48:23 IST