Columns, Opinion

Let’s Talk About: Indonesia’s team in the All England Open Badminton Championships

The Badminton World Federation announced March 16 that the 2021 All England Open  Championships would be delayed due to a number of inconclusive and positive COVID-19 test results. All inconclusive samples were rerun and all positive results were retested, which pushed the tournament to start at 2 p.m. rather than 9 a.m. later that day.

The samples returned negative, which seemed to be a green-light for participants to play in their respective matches. That was until the Indonesian badminton team was forced to withdraw from the prestigious tournament all together.

Apparently, the Indonesian team had been exposed to a COVID-19-positive passenger on the same inbound flight from Istanbul to Birmingham a few days prior. Oddly, only 20 out of the 24 members of the Indonesian team received an email from the United Kingdom’s National Health Service, which required them to self-isolate for 10 days from their date of arrival March 13.

Mayela Machribie Lumban Gaol

Getting retested seemed to be out of the question because the BWF and Badminton England could not be very helpful, according to the team’s manager, Ricky Soebagja. The matter seemed to be out of their hands because anything that has to do with contact tracing falls under the legal responsibility of the NHS.

Similarly, in an interview with DW Indonesia, Fellya Hartono, head of public relations and media of the Badminton Association of Indonesia, revealed the committee’s poor response to the complication, which was along the lines of  “oh sorry, we can’t do anything.”

But retesting was an opportunity given to players from Denmark, India and Thailand who received positive results, so why weren’t the players from Indonesia given the same opportunity? Especially when the team ranked fourth worldwide, being able to compete and defend their reputation in what’s considered to be the biggest tournament in the badminton world, besides this summer’s Tokyo Olympic Games, is crucial.

Whether this was unintentional or not, the BWF’s stance on these circumstances was obvious: The fate of the Indonesian team was the responsibility of the NHS, not the committees.

If you know me well enough, inconsistency is my biggest pet peeve — whether it be in relationships, rules or decision-making.

I immediately wanted answers as to why the emails were sent to only 20 rather than all 24 people, or why other players were allowed to be retested. Indonesian players, coaches, officials and fans all demanded answers too.

The lack of information given to the Indonesian team members in the email from the NHS also made me feel uneasy.

Alexia Nizhny/DFP STAFF

According to Hartono, the information given from the NHS was unnecessarily vague. Keeping the confidentiality of the passenger was reasonable, but the email had no additional information regarding the proximity of the passenger in relation to the team members — a critical yet minor detail that would have eliminated uneasiness among anyone in this situation. 

From an outsider’s perspective, the situation was clearly handled poorly by the BWF. The inconclusive test results on March 17, coupled with the delayed announcement of the team’s exposure to a COVID-19-positive passenger, only showed incompetence on the committee’s part. It was even more disappointing to see how the Indonesian players were not given equal opportunities as the other players from Denmark, Thailand and India.

If the NHS or BWF allowed both Indonesian athletes and officials to take another PCR test, or if the committees temporarily suspended the championships so every player was given equal opportunity to self-isolate and play, it would have created a better outcome.

Instead, the NHS was unaccommodating, and left no room for further questions. On top of that, the BWF gave the impression that they wanted nothing to do with the conflict. As guests of the tournament and the host country, I’m sure Indonesia — the team and the country — would have appreciated further consideration for such an important tournament.

So far, the Indonesian team has adhered to all protocols to maintain COVID-19 restrictions that have been put into place.

It’s also important to note that prior to the team’s departure to Birmingham, all members of the team had received both doses of the vaccine and taken PCR tests upon their arrival in the United Kingdom March 13. Most importantly, all team members isolated themselves until they were confirmed to be negative March 14.

The unjust treatment toward the Indonesian national team called for the attention of the Indonesian Embassy in London, which has expressed disappointment regarding the decision, demanded clarification on why only 20 out of 24 athletes received an email and urged for “no discrimination and unfair treatment against Indonesian athletes.”

There should be transparency in all lines of communication especially in high-profile situations such as these. Until the NHS or the BWF release an official statement, the reputation of both parties are rather questionable.

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