SINGAPORE - In what is another sign that the world of sports is gradually coming back to life, the Badminton World Federation (BWF) announced on Monday (Dec 21) its tournament calendar for the first half of next year, with the Singapore Open scheduled for April 13-18 as a qualifier for the Tokyo Olympics.
In March, the BWF suspended all of their sanctioned tournaments this year, including the April 7-12 Singapore Open, and froze the world and Olympic qualification rankings due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Nine of the world's top 10 men's singles shuttlers, including reigning Olympic champion Chen Long, as well as all of the top 10 female players, were earlier confirmed for the US$408,000 (S$577,000) Singapore Open.
In last year's edition, 4,962 spectators turned up at the Singapore Indoor Stadium to watch world No. 1s Kento Momota and Tai Tzu-ying win the men's and women's singles finals respectively.
BWF secretary general Thomas Lund said: "The focus has been to establish cluster tournaments where possible similar to what is planned for the Asian Leg in January in Thailand and we expect to stage a number of tournaments this way to ensure a more feasible tournament programme in 2021.
"The Covid-19 situation continues to provide a challenging environment in which to run international tournaments, 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."
The Singapore Badminton Association told The Straits Times it is working closely with Sport Singapore and BWF to plan and finalise the arrangement for next year's Singapore Open.
It added they will be continuing to monitor the pandemic situation and assess its impact on the event.
Singapore's top shuttlers Loh Kean Yew and Yeo Jia Min are itching to get back on court after the long hiatus.
Men's singles world No. 38 Loh said: "Considering how we were unable to compete in most tournaments this year due to Covid-19, I'm definitely excited to returning to play in tournaments when they resume next year.
"If conditions allow the Singapore Open to take place, it would be great because I've always enjoyed playing on home ground, which makes it a different and exciting experience."
Women's singles world No. 26 Yeo added: "Being able to compete abroad is the key to maintaining our sharpness on court. This is why I'm looking forward to being able to participate in more tournaments if the virus situation eases.
"It is always a joy to compete in the Singapore Open, in my home country, and I'm looking forward to it."
To help tournaments get back up and running, the BWF also announced a Covid-19 support package for tournament hosts that provides financial assistance and details cost relieving initiatives to ensure tournaments can continue to be part of the HSBC BWF World Tour and BWF Tour in 2021.
Lund added: "The support will help hosts cover the costs of implementing BWF Covid-19 protocols which includes testing, arrangements around hotel safety, cleaning, provisions of face masks to participants, and sanitising equipment.
"There is also the possibility to reduce total minimum prize money for 2021 in the effort to reduce costs, but BWF would encourage all hosts to keep minimum prize money levels as high as possible for the benefit of our top players."