Two-time defending men’s singles champion Kento Momota and a large Indonesian contingent have withdrawn from the upcoming BWF World Championships in Huelva, the Badminton World Federation confirmed on Wednesday.

While Momota’s decision was because of his recent injury troubles, Indonesia’s decision comes on the back of the Covid-19 situation.

World No 2 Momota also withdrew from last week’s BWF World Tour Finals 2021 (after playing just two points in his opening match of the group stages) with a back issue and has returned to Japan.

On the other hand, concerned over the new COVID-19 variant Omicron, the Indonesian badminton team has decided to pull out of the BWF World Championships starting in Huelva, Spain on Sunday.

“The Indonesian badminton team has withdrawn from participating in the 2021 BWF World Championship which will take place in Huelva, Spain, on 12-19 December 2021,” Badminton Indonesia wrote on its twitter handle on Wednesday.

“With this decision, the Indonesian team will immediately prepare for the tournament in 2022.”

The All-Indonesian Badminton Federation (PBSI) said on Wednesday that the decision was prompted by the spike in cases due to spread of Omicron variant in European nations.

“We don’t want to take any risks. Athletes’ safety and health are paramount. We have also discussed with the players and they agreed to withdraw from the World Championships,” PBSI development and performance division head Rionny Mainaky said.

“In addition, there is also an appeal from the government of the Republic of Indonesia, in the midst of a pandemic that has not subsided, to reduce travel activities abroad. Moreover, in a number of European countries there has also been a rapid spike in Covid-19 cases.”

It is not yet clear if certain shuttlers will be present as the BWF confirmed the development but said some of them could feature.

“BWF can confirm the withdrawal of a large contingent of Indonesian players from the event. PBSI made the announcement on Wednesday morning expressing concerns linked to the Covid-19 situation. A small number of Indonesian players remain in the draw,” a statement from the world body read, adding that the BWF was disappointed with the decision by PBSI and regret that the withdrawal took place after the draw.

Malaysian seventh seeds Chan Peng Soon and Goh Liu Ying on Monday announced their split as a pair after 13 years and have also withdrawn from the marquee event.

The India participation is confirmed with defending champion PV Sindhu having flown in directly from Bali for the event, reported PTI. PV Sindhu is the defending champion in women’s singles. Srikanth Kidambi and B Sai Praneeth are seeded in the men’s singles draw, while Satwiksairaj Rankireddy and Chirag Shetty are seeded in the men’s doubles draw.

Momota’s withdrawal is likely to benefit Lakshya Sen as he was drawn to face the Japanese star in the third round (if he gets past 15th seed Kenta Nishimoto in the second round).

The withdrawal from the world championships is a further blow for Momota, who has had a turbulent two years since suffering a career-threatening car crash in Malaysia at the start of 2020. He bowed out of the group stage at Tokyo 2020 despite top billing, missed tournaments due to Covid-19 and was recently overtaken as world number one by Olympic champion Viktor Axelsen. He has had injury troubles recently even as he fought back from the Tokyo disappointment.

The BWF said that a majority of players have now arrived safely in Huelva and entered the tournament bubble.

“BWF and the Spanish Badminton Federation are now focused on delivering a safe and successful World Championships in line with the advice and measures put in place by the local and national health authorities, including a comprehensive set of safety protocols for all players, team officials and key stakeholders,” the statement added.

Spain, where the tournament takes place from December 12 to 19, is suffering a surge in Covid-19 cases, like much of Europe.

(With PTI and AFP inputs)