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AFC Women's Asian Cup to India Open: how will COVID-19 surge affect India's sporting calendar in January?

File pic: PV Sindhu puts on a protective mask on the podium for the medal ceremony of the women's singles badminton event at the Tokyo Olympics. PV Sindhu mask

The surge of COVID-19 cases in major cities across India has raised concerns over a third wave of the pandemic and the possibility of further restrictions in the country. For the sporting world, this means uncertainty over the calendar again just as international tournaments were due to return to India.

There are to be several top-flight events to be held in the month of January across football, tennis and badminton. There are a number of national events scheduled to be held in the month as well, many of which have altered plans owing to the rising number of cases.

Here's a look at the major sporting events to be held in India in the coming month and where they stand as of the first week of January:

International events

Football

India is set to host the 2022 AFC Women's Asian Cup from January 20, with participating teams including Australia, Japan, and China. Mumbai, Navi Mumbai and Pune set to be the three venues. The venues were changed last year to be limited to one state with the aim of minimising travel and keeping the bio-bubble secure. However, the state of Maharashtra where the three stadiums are located, is the worst hit when it comes to cases of the Omicron COVID variant. As on 6PM on Monday, there were 8000+ new cases (past 24 hours) in Mumbai and 12,100+ new cases in Maharashtra -- the highest in the country.

But as things stand, the tournament is on track with the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) and Local Organising Committee (LOC) monitoring the situation, confirmed the All India Football Federation.

"We are aware of existing situation and the Covid-19 numbers in Maharashtra and India. The LOC and AFC are closely monitoring the situation. LOC is also in close contact with Government of Maharashtra on all matters," Kushal Das, General Secretary of the AIFF, told ESPN. "As for the tournament, everything is on track, as per the plans. The tournament is happening in a bio-bubble, with utmost precaution and safety. We are working on further strengthening these measures. We are well prepared to face this challenge and looking to host the tournament in the safest possible way."

Nationally, the I-League was on Monday suspended for at least six weeks after a fresh Covid-19 outbreak hit the participating teams inside the bio-bubble in Kolkata. This came after the league was suspended for a week at the end of December after Covid-19 breached its bio-bubble.

Currently, the Indian Super League is also being played within a bio-bubble in Goa.

Badminton

India are set to host three back-to-back badminton tournaments in January, according to the international calendar released by BWF last year. The India Open Super 500, the Syed Modi International Super 300 and Odisha Open Super 100, a new event. The former two tournaments were cancelled for the last two years due to the pandemic but is on track this year, confirmed the Badminton Association of India on Monday.

As of now, the tournaments in Delhi are on with no crowds, precautionary measured but will be subject government regulations. There were 4000+ new cases recorded in Delhi on Monday.

"We are going to follow the SOPs laid down by the state government and host the tournament without spectators. Players will have to undergo daily antigen testing during the event," BAI secretary Ajay Singhania told ESPN.

"We spoke to BWF today and apprised them of the situation. If things change drastically in the next couple of days and the government asks us to not to go ahead with it, we would have to comply. But as of today, the tournament is 100 per cent on," he added.

Cricket

The Board of Cricket Control in India has postponed the Ranji Trophy, CK Nayudu Trophy, and women's T20 league. "BCCI does not want to compromise the safety of the players, support staff, match officials and other participants involved and hence, has decided to put the three tournaments on hold till further notice. The BCCI will continue to assess the situation and take a call on the start of the tournaments accordingly," BCCI secretary Jay Shah said in a release on Tuesday.

Tennis

The ATP Maharashtra Open - India's only ATP World Tour tournament - is set to be held in Pune at the end of January. The ATP 250 event, which is held after the Australian Open, was cancelled in 2021 but was added back to calendar this year.

We are aware of the challenges ahead but we are ready to tackle them all, strategically. MSLTA have successfully conducted a few tournaments recently and I believe we can pull this off too. Safety of the players as well as others involved is of prime importance to us and, as organisers, we will not compromise on that. We will be strictly following the government's COVID-19 guidelines to bring yet another successful edition," Maharashtra State Lawn Tennis Association (MSLTA) secretary Sunder Iyer said.

It should be noted that Pune (and Navi Mumbai) have already hosted a lower-tier $25K International Tennis Federation tournament in the last week of December with several international players participating.

National tournaments

Shooting

The National Rifle Association of India (NRAI) on Tuesday decided to postpone the upcoming selection trials for rifle, pistol and shotgun events. The trials for pistol had been scheduled to be held in Delhi from January 13 - 25, while the rifle and shotgun trials had been scheduled to be held in Bhopal from January 7 - 23. "Fresh dates of trials will be announced as and when conditions are conducive to conduct trials," NRAI said in their statement.

Wrestling

The ranking series, which was to happen from January 10-12 , was moved from Delhi to Gonda in Uttar Pradesh as a pre-emptive measure. "We have shifted the tournament owing to rise in cases in New Delhi," WFI secretary Vinod Tomar said.

Weightlifting

The weightlifting nationals, to be held from January 8-16 in Bhubaneswar, has been postponed to March. The tournament is significant because it was to be Olympic medallist Mirabai Chanu's first competition since the Tokyo Games.

Chess

All India Chess Federation announced its decision to postpone all National Championships (junior, school, sub-junior) that were scheduled to be held in January. New dates are yet to be drawn up.

Athletics

Athletics Federation of India (AFI) has confirmed that the 17th National Youth Athletics Championships, scheduled to be held in Bhopal from 27-29 January, has been postponed until further notice.

Table Tennis

The Table Tennis Federation of India (TTFI) has decided to postpone the upcoming senior nationals scheduled to be held in Shillong from 22-29 January. The cadet and sub-junior nationals that were to begin January 11 have also been postponed along with all the age-group events (u-15, u-13, u-11) in the ongoing National Ranking (Central Zone) Championships in Indore. As of now,

SAI Centers

Sports Authority of India has closed down 67 training centers due to COVID-19. Their statement reads, "In view of rising cases of Covid 19, the Sports Authority of India has decided to close the 67 SAI Training Centers across the country. The decision also comes in the wake of directives issued by various states to suspend sporting activities for the safety of athletes. The STCs will be reopened after review of the situation in due course of time."

(Note: This list will be updated as and when newer information comes in.)