New Tokyo 2020 qualification deadline brings clarity to some, confusion to others

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The International Olympic Committee (IOC) on Friday, set June 29, 2021 as the late date for qualifications to the Tokyo Olympics Games that had been postponed by a year owing to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. "The new qualification period deadline is 29 June 2021 and International Federations (IFs) can define their own qualification period deadlines should the deadline be prior to this date," the IOC said in its release. The deadline for the "final sport entries" has also been extended to July 5, 2021, with the Games officially expected to be held between July 23 and August 8 next year.

What this means is that all sporting bodies must conclude their Olympic qualification processes by June 29 next year. These are the first definitive dates issued by the IOC regarding qualification for the Tokyo Olympics since the postponement. This had been a particular point of anxiety for athletes around the world since, only about 47 percent of Olympic quotas had been awarded prior to the suspension of the international sporting season and with it multiple qualification tournaments due to the COVID-19 outbreak.

With the original qualification format of most events thrown into disarray with lockdowns and travel bans worldwide, the IOC added that it would be able to finalise an adapted qualification system later this month. "We understand that at this time these are unlikely to include the full details on the dates and locations of the specified events, recognising that these will follow later as the impacts of COVID-19 and its related restrictions become clearer. We aim to finalise the adapted qualification systems by mid-April, with the details on specific events to follow when available," the release said.

The IOC release suggested that in the case of events where the qualification process was halted midway, the priority would be to reflect the original process once international sport resumes. This would seem to suggest that in the case of sports like badminton, the total number of tournaments that would count towards qualification once the international sports calendar resumes, would remain the same as before.

"The priority remains to reflect, where possible, the allocation method/pathway of the original qualification systems for each sport. This principle encourages IFs to follow a like-for-like approach by replacing those lost opportunities that were allocating quota with the same number of events," the IOC said.

The IOC, however, admitted certain Federations - such as Badminton World Federation (BWF) -- would have a challenge on their hands since they determined qualification on the basis of rankings.

"Regarding the scenario where quota allocation was originally based on ranking, IFs retain full discretion to define the new ranking deadline and pathway. The IOC recognises the sensitivity of such decisions. A sport-specific balance needs to be found between protecting those athletes who were close to qualifying based on the previous 2020 deadlines whilst also ensuring the participation of the best athletes at the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020 by allowing the top performers of the 2021 season to qualify," the release said.

Under the original process, the badminton world rankings on April 30 2020 would have determined Olympic qualification. At the time the international calendar was suspended following the All England Championships in March, only PV Sindhu (women's singles), B Sai Praneeth (men's singles) and the men's doubles pair of Chirag Shetty and Satwiksairaj Rankireddy were inside qualification range. Of these three, Praneeth gained the bulk of his points from the World Championships last year and a change in the qualification period could badly hurt his qualification hopes. Two other Indians - Saina Nehwal and Kidambi Srikanth were just outside the qualification range (WR 16 in the singles category). How the BWF decides to tweak the qualification process would determine which Indians eventually qualify.

As such many would be waiting anxiously over the next few weeks to find out about the revamped qualification procedure