Tokyo 2021: International travel restrictions put several Indians' Olympics dream on hold

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The worsening second wave of Covid-19 cases in India has prompted a host of countries to lock their borders to travellers from the country. The impact, with the Olympics now barely three months away, falls squarely on Indian athletes scrambling for a final shot at qualification berths. Over the past few days, more countries have added India to their red list, causing flights to be suspended and tournament plans to be scrapped. We look at some sports where qualification events are still pending and the possible impact of extended travel restrictions.


A nine-member Indian team along with two coaches will leave for Tokyo on April 30 for the Asian and Oceania Continental Olympic qualification regatta. Japan has declared a virus emergency in Tokyo and three other regions following a surge in cases. The May 5-7 event will be the Indian team's first international competition since the 2019 Asian Championship in Chungju, Korea and their final chance at earning qualification spots.

Though there is a second competition - final qualification regatta in Lucerne, Switzerland from May 16-18, Indian coach Ismail Baig tells ESPN that as things stand, the team has no plans to travel for it. "International travel is complicated at the moment. We applied for Japan visas around two months in advance, it came through only two days ago," says Baig. "We're still struggling to complete last-minute formalities. It's possible we may be asked to quarantine for a couple of days in Tokyo. The Switzerland competition is barely 10 days later and given the restrictions it's hard to make it." In the absence of two of its most seasoned and decorated names - Dattu Bhokanal and Swarn Singh, hopes could largely rest on Jakar Khan and Khushpreet Kaur in the single sculls.


Two qualification tournaments remain - Malaysia Open Super 750 (May 25-30) and Singapore Open Super 500 (June 1-6). Malaysia has, starting April 28, temporarily barred flights to and from India. Singapore, meanwhile, has announced a mandatory 14-day quarantine at a dedicated facility, as well as an additional seven days stay-at-home notice for those arriving from the country. Indian players' chances of participation in both competitions hinge on how the virus situation in the country unfolds over the next couple of weeks.

BAI is exploring alternative travel options. "With the current travel restrictions, Indian players will not be able to take direct flights. We have checked for via routes and the alternatives are either from Sri Lanka or from Doha and Indian shuttlers are most likely to travel via Qatar. BAI has written to the respective Associations of Malaysia and Singapore for clarity on what will be the exact regulations that will be applied to Indian Shuttlers while they arrive in these respective countries," the federation said in a statement.

Two singles players - PV Sindhu and Sai Praneeth and the men's doubles pair of Satwiksairaj Rankireddy and Chirag Shetty will qualify for the Olympics by virtue of their rankings, irrespective of the conduct of the remaining competitions. Saina Nehwal and Kidambi Srikanth, placed No 22 and No 20 respectively, however, are unlikely to fulfill the top-16 Road to Tokyo ranking stipulation in time for the June 15 deadline.


Indian wrestlers headed to Sofia, Bulgaria for the World Qualifiers found themselves stranded on Wednesday after the Dutch government banned travellers from the country until May 1. The 10-member team was to fly to the Bulgarian capital via Amsterdam on a KLM flight. The team, according to Wrestling Federation of India, is now scheduled to leave on Friday. Six Indian wrestlers have already booked their berths and the May 6-9 competition will serve as the final qualifying opportunity for the rest. The women's 50kg (Seema Bisla), 68kg (Nisha) and 76 kg (Pooja) events appear to be among India's decent bets for quota places at the competition. At the 2019 World Championships in Almaty, Seema lost in the second round of the repechage to miss out on a quota. It was the same tournament that saw Vinesh Phogat qualify for the Olympics.


The women's 4x100m and the men's 4x400m relay teams missed out on the May 1&2 World Relays in Poland after their KLM connecting flight to Amsterdam was suspended. Plans for some of the top track and field names, including Neeraj Chopra and Hima Das, to travel to Turkey on a training-cum-competition trip too were scrapped last week because of the stipulation of a mandatory 14-day hard quarantine on arrival.

In June, two qualifying events - Indian GP 4 (June 15) and National inter-state athletics (June 25-29) are scheduled to be hosted in the country. The federation has been looking at alternative plans to send athletes out for invitational events in Europe, which now appears to be on shaky ground. Among the top names who are yet to qualify are Dutee Chand, Hima Das, Tejaswin Shankar and Jinson Johnson, among others.


The three-member Indian men's team of Tarundeep Rai, Atanu Das and Pravin Jadhav have already qualified for the Olympics. Among the women, Deepika Kumari has been the only one to earn a berth so far. The women's team of Deepika, Komolika Bari and Ankita Bhakat will have their last qualifying opportunity at the World Cup Stage 3 in Paris (June 22-27). Presently, France requires Indian travellers to serve a mandatory 10-day quarantine and there's an air bubble arrangement in place between both countries connecting Paris to Mumbai, Bengaluru and New Delhi.

The women won a team gold and the Indians finished with four medals overall in the recent World Cup Stage 1 in Guatemala City. The medal sweep however, came in a severely depleted field, missing powerhouses South Korea, China, Chinese Taipei and Turkey. South Korea, archery's leading heavyweight, has pulled out from the entire World Cup circuit which could work in Indian women's favour in Paris.