(REUTERS) - India's badminton team has been forced to withdraw from the Malaysian Open due to a travel ban, potentially impacting the players' hopes of qualifying for the Tokyo Olympics.
The Sports Authority of India (SAI) said on Thursday (May 6) that the team had pulled out due to the travel ban imposed by Malaysia in the wake of an unprecedented spike in Covid-19 cases in India.
The Malaysian Open is one of the final two events where Olympic hopefuls can collect points towards the Race to Tokyo rankings - a programme that decides who qualifies for the Summer Games which begin on July 23.
All top Indian singles and doubles players like PV Sindhu, Saina Nehwal, Srikanth Kidambi, B. Sai Praneeth, Satwiksairaj Rankireddy, Chirag Shetty, Ashwini Ponnappa and Sikki Reddy were due to participate in the Kuala Lumpur event, scheduled to run from May 25-30.
"The Sports Ministry, through the Ministry of External Affairs, approached the Malaysian authorities requesting to permit the Indian team to participate," SAI said in a statement.
"But owing to the rise in Covid-19 cases in India, the Malaysian government has informed the Indian High Commission in Malaysia that the travel of the team cannot be presently permitted."
India reported on Thursday a record 412,262 new Covid-19 cases in the past 24 hours and a record 3,980 deaths.
Covid-19 infections have now surged past 21 million in the country with an official death toll totalling 230,168.
The postponement of the India Open, which was scheduled for Delhi between May 11-16, had already dealt a severe blow to Indian shuttlers hoping to secure Olympic berths.
As the current Race to Tokyo rankings stand, only Sindhu, Sai Praneeth and the doubles pair of Shetty and Rankireddy can make the cut.
London 2012 bronze medallist Nehwal, who is ranked No. 22 in the women's singles qualification standings, and former world No. 1 Kidambi, 20th in the men's singles list, need to break into the top 16 in their respective categories to gain direct qualification to the Games.
The Race to Tokyo period ends on June 15 and the final qualification event is the Singapore Open, scheduled for June 1.