Fewer tournaments, possibly less prize money and a ten-week Olympic qualifying window, ending with the India Open in May - these are the highlights of the revised badminton calendar for 2021. India's best players, including PV Sindhu and Saina Nehwal, will return to action next month with three tournaments in south-east Asia.
The India Open will run from May 11-16, and serve as the final event in the Tokyo Olympic qualifying period in 2021, the Badminton World Federation (BWF) announced on Monday. Apart from revisions to the calendar, which sees some tournament dates being pushed and a handful of Grade 2 events cancelled, the focus of the world body, according to its secretary Thomas Lund, has been to 'establish cluster tournaments where possible', similar to the Asian Leg in January next year.
The Olympic qualification window will comprise a total of 17 tournaments - opening in week 9 with the Swiss Open and drawing to a close in Week 19, at the Super 500 event scheduled to be held in New Delhi. In essence, the qualifying period has been extended from its earlier April 26 cutoff.
Following the Asian cluster of events, Europe will play host to the first three Olympic qualifying events - Swiss Open Super 300, German Open Super 300 and Portuguese International Series in March.
India's top players are expected to return to action at the Thailand Open and the Badminton Association of India (BAI) on Monday announced an eight-member team - Sindhu, Saina, B Sai Praneeth, Kidambi Srikanth, Chirag Shetty, Satwiksairaj Rankireddy, Sikki Reddy and Ashwini Ponnappa - for the two Super 1000 events between January 12-24. Neither tournament falls within the Olympic qualifying period.
BWF also added that it is working with the IOC to update the final Olympic qualification regulations, which are likely to be in place by mid-January.
Among the tournaments cancelled are - China Masters Super 100, Thailand Masters Super 300, and Thailand Open Super 500, while the postponed events are New Zealand Open, Australia Open and Korea Masters, all of them Super 300 events. The Thomas and Uber Cups, which were postponed this year following mass pullout of teams, will now be held in October 2021.
Further, bearing in mind the financial impact of COVID-19, the BWF has announced setting up of a support package for tournament hosts along with the possibility to reduce the total minimum prize money for 2021 to cut costs. According to the guidelines released on Monday, hosts will have the option of reducing the total prize money - Super 1000 events can be $850,000 instead of $1.1 million, Super 750, $600,000 from $750,000 and $320,000 instead of $400,000 for Super 500 events. BWF has also decided not to have qualifying rounds for all Super 500 and Super 300 events.
For Grade 2 events, the world body has pledged to assist financially in carrying out COVID protocols such as testing, safety and cleaning, apart from masks and sanitation equipment.
"The COVID-19 situation continues to provide a challenging environment in which to run international tournaments," said Lund, "and although the hope is that the Covid-19 vaccine may in time create a world with less restrictions, BWF expects that the pandemic will still influence tournament hosting throughout the whole of 2021."