Last week, India’s chief coach Pullela Gopichand once again blamed tight scheduling and the packed international calendar for the drop in form of PV Sindhu since she became the first Indian to be crowned world champion in August this year.

Gopichand has been complaining about the calendar and how players have been forced to too many tournaments since the start of 2018 when the BWF introduced the BWF World Tour and made it mandatory for Top Committed Players to play a minimum of 12 tournaments in a year.

Many top international players had also complained about the new rule back then but most of them have made peace with the new system. But the Indian national coach has been time and again blaming the scheduling for the lack of consistency from the players.

In 2018, the Commonwealth Games and Asian Games were added to the calendar and Indian thinktank had made winning medals in the two multi-discipline events a priority along with the World Championship.

We try and take a look at the rule, how top players from the other countries have been managing their workload and how much can one blame the schedule for the early losses for most Indian players.

What does the rule say?

According to the Players Commitment Regulation introduced by BWF at the start of 2018, men’s and women’s singles players ranked among top-15 and men’s, women’s and mixed doubles pairs ranked in top-10 a week after the BWF Tour Finals of the preceding year would be categories as Top Committed Players and will have to compulsorily play 12 tournaments in a year.

The tournaments that are mandatory for these players include:

Level 1: BWF World Tour Finals

Level 2: All 3 Tournaments (Super 1000)

Level 3: All 5 Tournaments (Super 750)

Level 4: 4 of 7 Tournaments (Super 500)  

Players who break into top-15 in singles and top-10 in doubles on first Thursday of July are also added to the Top Committed Players list and have to follow the same rules. The players can be fined up to $5000 for missing any of these tournaments unless they submit relevant medical certificates citing any injury.

BWF’s explanation for making the above rule was that they have brought in a big sponsor which would ensure that the players will earn more and they need to guarantee participation of top players in major events.

In addition, the Top Committed Players can apply for Protected Rankings from a period extending from three months to 12 months if they suffer any serious injury. The BWF may still ask the players to participate in the promotional activities in case travelling isn’t a problem.

The schedule after the World Championships

Since winning the World Championship crown on August 25, Sindhu has played six tournaments in the three months period. That averages to two tournaments in a month.

The general system among badminton players is that they tend to train for three-four weeks before playing two back to back tournaments.

The dates of these tournaments were as follows

BWF World Championship: 19-25 August

China Open Super 1000: 17-22 September

Korea Open Super 500: 24-29 September 

Denmark open Super 750: 15-20 October

French Open Super 750: 22-27 October

China Open Super 750 – 5-10 November

Hong Kong Super 500 – 12-17 November

If we look at the dates of the tournaments Sindhu played, there was just one week between the European Tour of Denmark and French Open and the Asian circuit starting with China Super 750. She also had just two weeks between Korea Open and the Denmark Open as against almost a month before the China Open Super 1000.

The only option for Sindhu to steal another week of training was by opting out of Korea Open Super 500 as she could have completed her mandatory requirement of playing four Super 500 events by participating in Hong Kong. All other tournaments were Super 750 and Super 1000 events and were mandatory to participate.

The situation was the same for B Sai Praneeth, Kidambi Srikanth, Saina Nehwal and the men’s doubles combination of Chirag Shetty and Satwiksairaj Rankireddy among the Indians and the top players from other countries.

The exceptional Kento Momota won four of the five tournaments he participated in, while there was a different women’s singles champion in all the six tournaments. However, world championships finallist Nozomi Okuhara, Carolina Marin, Tai Tzu Ying, Chen Yufei and Ratchnok Intanon managed to reach two finals each.

In contrast, Sindhu could reach just one quarter-final as did world championship bronze medallist B Sai Praneeth. Srikanth was lucky to get two walkovers when he managed to reach the semi-finals in the Hong Kong Open.

Shifting the goalpost?

The 2018 season was more hectic for Indian shuttlers. Along with the 12 mandatory tournaments and the Asian, World championship and the team event, they also had to participate in the Commonwealth Games and Asian Games.

This meant there was far less time for preparation and despite that Sindhu managed to reach three World Tour finals and the summit clash in the Commonwealth Games, Asian Games and the World Championship.

In 2018, Sindhu played a total of 18 events including four weeks of Asian Games and Commonwealth Games and would end up playing a similar number of tournaments in 2019 as she has already qualified for the World Tour Finals in December.

There is no doubt that the level of competition in World Tour events is a lot higher than even the World Championship as the top players don’t have any easy rounds to kick-off the campaign. This means that even the seeded players end up losing in the first or second round in four or five tournaments in the year with probably the exception of Momota in men’s singles and Tai Tzu Ying in 2018.

Sindhu has never consistently reached the finals of World Tour events. She mostly comes into her own in the major events like the World Championship and is normally at her best between June to September.

Women's rankings

Rank Country Player Tournaments
1 TPE TAI Tzu Ying 14
2 CHN CHEN Yu Fei 17
3 JPN Nozomi OKUHARA 19
5 THA Ratchanok INTANON 20
6 IND PUSARLA V. Sindhu 18
7 CHN HE Bing Jiao 17
8 CAN Michelle LI 23
9 KOR AN Se Young 19
10 IND Saina NEHWAL 16
11 KOR SUNG Ji Hyun 20
12 USA Beiwen ZHANG 21

Men's rankings

Rank Country Player Tournaments
1 JPN Kento MOMOTA 17
2 TPE CHOU Tien Chen 20
3 DEN Anders ANTONSEN 17
4 CHN CHEN Long 18
5 DEN Viktor AXELSEN 15
6 INA Jonatan CHRISTIE 19
7 CHN SHI Yu Qi 13
8 INA Anthony Sinisuka GINTING 20
9 HKG NG Ka Long Angus 21
12 IND Srikanth KIDAMBI 15

A look at the ranking list of top players reveals that all the players have played an average of 18 or 19 tournaments when playing just about 15 would have been enough. The players from China, Japan and even the Danes are also competing in domestic tournaments and local leagues when not playing on the World Tour.

It is understandable that Gopichand wants more time for the Indian players to train before playing tournaments, something he has been asking for since he took over as the chief national coach back in 2006.

Even if we accept his argument about the lack of training time and solely blame the scheduling for the lack of results, it would not be an accurate analysis for the reasons behind the Indian contingents below-par performance this year.