SAI has intervened to help badminton players Subhankar Dey and Ajay Jayaram out of a problematic situation in Germany. Both the Indian badminton players are at the SaarLorLux Open Super 100 event in Saarbrucken, where compatriot and fellow participant Lakshya Sen's father and coach DK Sen's COVID-19 test returned positive on Tuesday evening.
Dey and Jayaram have been asked to withdraw from the event and isolate themselves until November 10, and are keen to fly out of Germany before the country heads into an emergency one-month lockdown early next month. Following the social media pleas of the self-funded players, SAI has agreed to pay for their quarantine expenses. A total of INR 1.46 lakhs has been promised for their hotel and food costs, 90 percent of which is assured to be released immediately.
- Ajay Jayaram (@ajay_289) October 29, 2020
Initially, Lakshya - who is the defending champion (and tested negative) -- was asked to isolate himself and skip the event. It was followed by the organizers asking Dey and Jayaram, who tested negative before arriving in Frankfurt, to remain in isolation as well and not participate any further in the tournament.
While Sen has been directed to remain isolated until November 6 and will be allowed to leave if he shows no symptoms in the last 48 hours of isolation, organizers have asked all other contact persons including Dey, Jayaram, Lakshya and physio Abhishek, to remain in quarantine until November 10.
"We have been told that the idea behind us being asked to stay isolation for four days more than the infected person is the theory that it's how long it could take between exposure to symptoms showing," says Dey, "We are requesting authorities to conduct fresh tests on us sooner since it's already been four days since we trained and traveled together."
For both Dey and Jayaram, a missed tournament opportunity is particularly gutting since traveling for tournaments involves taking a chunky bite into their savings. "We've been literally thrown under the bus" Jayaram tells ESPN, "For no fault of ours, we now can't play the tournament. The organizers have been slow to responding to our queries. We're not sure what we would do once the lockdown kicks in and we're still here. It's scary. We have requested BAI to intervene so we can return home soon. Technically all of us in the Indian team, including Lakshya's father had traveled in a bus with at least 10-15 odd other players and support staff before his test result came in, so I'm not sure why only Subhankar and me are being singled out. If the contact tracing logic is being followed, shouldn't the entire tournament be called off?"
The former world No 13 had won his first-round match against Belgium's Maxime Moreels on Tuesday before being forced to pull out.
It is understood that according to the protocol issued by the organizers, those arriving for the tournament were required to get themselves tested 48 hours before reaching Frankfurt. Other options included testing upon arrival at the airport or scheduling for one at their hotel. Lakshya and his team, which includes his father and physio, had not got themselves tested until Tuesday and the organizers didn't follow through or ask for their test results on arrival either. Had the latter been done, the scenario of coming into contact with other players or them being forced to skip the tournament wouldn't have arisen.
Germany is facing a second wave of the pandemic with the number of COVID-19 cases doubling in the last ten days. From November 2-30, the country will go under a lockdown, which will discourage both travel and hotels hosting tourists.
"At the Denmark Open, tests were conducted in the hotel we were staying at so this time too we thought we'd get it done the same way," DK Sen tells ESPN. "But since the organizers had made no such provision at the hotel, we had to travel all the way back to the Frankfurt airport and pay 118 euros each to get the tests done on Tuesday morning."
By the time his result came in, however, Sen had already been part of training sessions at the playing venue main hall, which also involved Dey and Jayaram. The original plan was for Lakshya, whose trip is being funded by SAI, to travel back to Copenhagen for a second training stint at the Peter Gade academy. Now, all plans center around getting back to India.
Dey and Jayaram spent roughly INR 2.5 lakhs for this Europe swing. At the Denmark Open two weeks ago, Dey and Jayaram lost in their respective first-round encounters to Jason Anthony Ho-Shue and Anders Antonsen. They then traveled to Austria, training for a week at the national center.
When contacted by ESPN, BWF's response to the COVID-19 protocols not being enforced strictly by the tournament organizers was that since it is a Super 100 event, "it is not subject to the same level of requirements". While the world body had shared its "recommendations" on COVID-19 handling, it was "not a requirement" since the tournament belongs to a lower tier. The SaarLorLux Open is only the second BWF event since resumption of the tour early this month.
"It's sad how all our efforts of traveling, paying out of pocket has suddenly come to nothing," says Dey, ranked No 46 in the world. "Both of us were really looking forward to this. At the Denmark Open, I was way too rusty but after a week's training in Vienna I was confident of at least getting fairly deep into the draw. But I didn't even get the chance to play one match."
Dey had already had a scare before landing in Europe. A week before he flew out of India for Denmark, his 70-year old mother as well as his brother, wife and young niece were hospitalized for COVID-19 in Kolkata. Dey was then in Mumbai.
"We've requested organizers to coordinate with local health authorities so we can get tested again soon and fly back to India if we're found negative," says Dey.
For DK Sen, it's an unenviable position to be in. He feels guilt at costing three players, including his son, a tournament appearance. His wife back home is worried and friends and relatives are calling with new tips they have googled to beat the virus. "It's the kind of thing you hear about others but aren't prepared to happen to yourself," he says, "I have absolutely no symptoms. Maybe a fresh test will be able to re-confirm if the earlier result was right. I think cases will happen at tournaments, it's almost unavoidable. It shouldn't scare organizers from conducting future events. Right now I'm just trying to take in all the advice coming in from different quarters. Some are suggesting saline gargles, some others steam inhalation. It's turning out to be a busy isolation."