The withdrawal of badminton powerhouse China from the upcoming Asian Tour in Bangkok due to coronavirus restrictions prompted the organisers to reaffirm their health and safety protocols, declaring the competition “the safest in the world”.
The Asian Tour – comprising of two Thailand Open tournaments as well as the backdated World Tour Finals – is set to lose some of its lustre following the withdrawal of several top Chinese shuttlers including Chen Long, Chen Yu Fei, Li Jun Hui-Liu Yu Chen and Zheng Si Wei-Huang Ya Qiong.
Badminton Association of Thailand (BAT) president Patama Leeswadtrakul said China’s anti-coronavirus rules prevented the Chinese contingent from travelling.
“The reason the Chinese government doesn’t allow them to go out of the country – not just for badminton but all kinds of athletes,” Patama told AFP.
The president guaranteed that this tournament bubble, which will see all three tournaments played behind closed doors under strict protocols, is the world's safest.
“After January 4th, no one will be allowed to enter this bubble and all the measures and protocols are very strict for the health and safety of everyone. We are the only tournament that can host in the world at this time, internationally, globally, at this time of resurgence,” she said.
Thailand recently ramped up safety measures, with Bangkok set to close schools for two weeks to control a new wave of coronavirus cases since the New Year.
But overall cases remained low in the country, with less than 70 deaths since the pandemic began.
Without the likes of Chen Long and Shi Yuqi in the frame for the men’s singles event, the competition is anyone’s game from world number one Kento Momota to Malaysia’s Lee Zii Jia.
The absence of China’s top two pairs – ranked first and second in the world – in the mixed doubles also means the Malaysian pairings of Chan Peng Soon-Goh Liu Ying, Tan Kian Meng-Lai Pei Jing and Goh Soon Huat-Shevon Lai have a good chance of claiming the first titles of 2021.