A Special Kind of Tournament in Thailand
A Different Kind of World Tour
Badminton tournaments are finally happening again in Bangkok, Thailand, as they become hosts to the Asian Leg of the 2020 BWF World Tour this month.
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, many tournaments of the 2020 BWF World Tour had to be postponed and ultimately cancelled for the health and safety concerns of everybody involved. This meant that in 2020, it led to months on end without any badminton, which was a devastating blow to all of us. Badminton has always unified the community as a sporting event to look forward to together.
Fortunately, with the cooperation of all parties involved, the Asian Leg of the BWF World Tour is able to commence in Bangkok, Thailand, a wonderful start for badminton in 2021. This month will feature 2 Super 1000 tournaments, and will culminate with the BWF World Tour Finals. The first tournament is the YONEX Thailand Open, starting next week from the 12th - 17th January, and is then followed by the TOYOTA Thailand Open from the 19th - 24th January. Both of which are Super 1000 tournaments. Finally, it will come to a head on the 27th - 31st January for the BWF World Tour Finals. The YONEX Thailand Open is the 8th tournament of the 2020 BWF World Tour, which is also part of the Thailand Open championships that have been held since 1984. Players must participate in both Thailand Opens in order to qualify for the World Tour Finals.
Protecting the Good Spirit During the Pandemic
But these tournaments will be different. Because of COVID-19, these tournaments are much more regulated and monitored to prevent the spread of the virus. In Thailand, all players, coaches and staff must strictly abide by the health and safety regulations set up by the organizers and the host countries. Before departing for Thailand, they must all take mandatory PCR swab tests to ensure the health and safety of everyone from the virus. All members were then tested again, including body temperature checks, in Bangkok before entering into the hotel for quarantine, in compliance with The Department of Disease Control of Thailand’s requirements.
Players are now able to train in preparation for the competition however under strict safety protocols. All these quarantine measures are in place during the 14-day observation period which includes during the YONEX Thailand Open. During practice, plastic dividers were placed between practice courts to enforce social distancing rules. There are sanitizing teams that will sanitize whole courts before the next team comes for training. Hand sanitizer gels, trash bins and information boards have been put in place for the benefit of everyone there. In addition, the teams of different countries all train at different times and the player’s practice and gym sessions are also controlled to help minimize the crowd and spread of the virus.
On January the 6th, BWF announced that 824 participants in the Green Zone quarantine bubble tested negative for COVID-19. The Green Zone includes players, their entourage and everyone who comes into direct contact with them, like the umpires, personnel from BWF, Badminton Association of Thailand, medical staff and more. This is great news for the tournament and serves as an encouragement for everyone to continue to keep up with all of the health and safety regulations put into place.
Pushing Through Despite the Setbacks
Despite the incredible efforts of BWF, the Badminton Association of Thailand, the Royal Thai Government, the Department of Disease Control and all else involved, there are many things that are still unpredictable and out of our control.
Unfortunately, due to COVID-19, some teams and players had to withdraw from the competition. China has withdrawn their team from the competition, and after Japan’s men’s singles world No.1 Kento Momota tested positive, Japan has done the same. Indonesian doubles player Kevin Sanjaya has also tested positive, and because of this, Kevin and his partner Marcus Fernaldi Gideon withdrew from the Thailand Open. Badminton Association of Malaysia (BAM) coaching director Wong Choong also tested positive and has self-isolated, but fortunately, the other players and team members were clear to travel for the Tour.
The adjustments and changes are difficult physically and mentally for everyone involved, and there are many things that are still being learnt. There are athletes and others who disagree or may be struggling with the changes and stricter regulations. These emotions and reactions are valid, however it is a challenge that we all are facing and that we all must endure together. We have to make the best out of the situation that we are in. And despite the challenges, all players, staff, organizers, the hosts, have worked hard to ensure that the tournament runs as safely as possible. Everyone wants badminton to return, but the priority will always be the health and safety of the people.
The Spirit of Badminton Continues
The excitement for the start of the games have risen amongst players and fans alike, especially for the Thai players who will play in their home country. Many of them have expressed their excitement, including Kantaphon Wangcharoen, Thailand's No.1 men's singles player. He said, "When I compete at home, I give more than 100 percent of myself to the match and the Thai people." Another player, World No.12 women's singles player Busanan Ongbamrungphan mentions that she’d “like this competition to bring happiness to Thai people. Come and make history with us". Additionally, Khunying Patama Leeswadtrakul, President of the Badminton Association of Thailand said at a signing ceremony, “The tournaments will make people proud of the country because it is the first time that three tournaments of this kind will be held in one month in one country.”
We hope the tournaments in Bangkok run smoothly and we wish all of the players and teams the best of luck. We can’t wait for badminton to finally start again in 2021. Things may be different now, however the spirit of badminton remains the same.