The indisputable statement is given by badminton controlling body, Badminton World Federation (BWF) as it made mandatory to attend minimum of 12 tournaments for the year 2018. “You will be well compensated for your efforts on the court, but you will not be permitted to cherry-pick your tournaments, and will be penalised if you fail to turn up at certain tournaments.”
Calling it as the ‘World Tour’, the tournament schedule makes it compulsory for the world’s top 15 players in the singles events and top 10 pairs in the doubles disciplines to play a minimum of 12 tournaments, or face a fine.
Dividing into different grades and levels, Grade One comprises of all major tournaments like the Olympics, the Thomas and Uber Cup team finals, the Sudirman Cup, Asian Games, Commonwealth Games and World Junior Championships.
Grade Two has been subdivided into a number of levels. Whereas the Level One has only season-finale final called as World Tour Finals, which is the highest pursed with USD 1 million and features only top eight players/pairs.
Since 2013, with five-year contract with the authorities in the emirate, the Superseries final has been played in mid-December. From 2018 onwards, the prize money purse has been revised to $1.5 million, even as the qualification norms for the World Tour Finals remain the same.
Three tournaments have been placed in Level Two - the All-England, Indonesian Open and China Open, which were formerly known as Super Series Premier. They will all carry prize money of at least $1 million.
Meanwhile, the All-England badminton championship from March 14 will be the first global tournament from which the new service rule will be made official, which says that the shuttle must be below 1.15 metres from the surface of the court at the moment it touches the server’s racket.
Five tournaments are included in the Level Three which has the purse of $700,000; the Malaysian Open, Korea Open, Denmark Open, French Open and Japan Open, all of which were formerly known as Super Series events comes under the Level Three category.
Whereas Grand Prix Gold events like the Malaysian Masters, the Thailand Open and the Syed Modi Memorial, have been placed in Level Four, which has a total of seven tournaments featuring the lower ranked players. Level Five, earlier known as the International Satellite and Challenger, comprises 11 tournaments. There is also a Level Six for continental tournaments, though the exact number has not yet been decided by the BWF.
The qualifying draws of 16 for Levels Two and Three, that feature players just outside the ranking list of the top 32 to have entered a particular competition, have been scrapped, because the preliminaries take time to complete and add an extra day to the schedule of each tournament.
India has four players in the top 32 — Kidambi Srikanth (ranked No 5), HS Prannoy (No 10), B Sai Praneeth (No 17) and Sameer Verma (No 30) – who will henceforth be forced to play in all three tournaments of Level Two and all five competitions of Level Three. The shuttlers also have to play at least four Level Four tournaments, to make up the mandatory dozen in the year.
Besides, shuttlers need to attend tournaments at Asia level and national level which include The Thomas Cup, Commonwealth Games, Asian Games and other such major team events.
Shuttlers above world’s top 32 like India’s Ajay Jayaram (currently occupying the 39th berth) would have to send in their entries and anxiously await news of the withdrawal, for one reason or another, of some of those who automatically make the cut.
The legendary Prakash Padukone expressed dismal. He said, “As we know, it is already a cramped schedule; and, at the international circuit, one should be careful not to overdo things, to remain injury-free. If your injury gets serious, you'll end up missing action for six months. So, all the top players should sit down with their coaches, and pick tournaments they will play well in advance.”
One of the top ranked players, who prefers anonymity said, “The BWF is cracking the whip on the world’s best players, putting them under unnecessary pressure, and risking getting them injured,” the player said. “We work so hard to improve our ranking, but it has now become a burden to be ranked in the top 15!”