New Delhi, March 19: India's chief badminton coach Pullela Gopichand believes the Tokyo Olympics should be postponed given the unprecedented crisis that the world is facing due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The call to defer the Olympics, scheduled to be held in Tokyo from July 24 to August 9, is growing after most of the major sporting events were either cancelled or postponed due to the deadly outbreak, which has killed over 8000 people and infected more than 2,00,000 globally.
The International Olympic Committee (IOC), however, said on Wednesday it expects the Games to begin on time.
"I have my doubts about the Olympics. It is not like it is far away. The preparation has to start now. So, the IOC has to take a call now for everyone to relax," Gopichand told PTI.
"I think, in the present scenario, with the health scares and all the travel restrictions and all, it is a tough time and at the moment the whole world is thinking about health and safety for its citizens, so I think given the situation it is better if the Olympics are postponed," he added.
The Badminton World Federation was severely criticised for conducting the All England Championship earlier this month, despite the rapid spread of the deadly disease. International players, including London Olympics bronze-medallist Saina Nehwal, slammed BWF saying players' safety was compromised for financial gains and Gopichand also didn't mince any words.
"Definitely, I think it was a wrong decision on BWF's part to put the players at risk by hosting the All England," said Gopichand, who is currently in self-isolation after returning from Birmingham. After being condemned by the players, the BWF suspended all tournaments till April 12.
There have been calls to extend the Olympic qualification period, which ends on April 28, following the postponement of a number of Olympic qualifiers. Gopichand, however, feels there are no easy answers and BWF is in a tough spot.
"What is happening is unprecedented, so I think any decisions will have its merits and demerits. I think whatever is equal and fair for everybody should be done. We can't satisfy everybody and hopefully, it is equal for most people," said 2001 All England Champion.
"I think BWF is in a tough spot, any decision will be criticised. When you extend Olympic (qualification) period, you are talking about a lot of things like accreditations, visas, support teams, local associations. "So it is not easy and there are constraints. Unfortunately, it is an unprecedented situation, so we have to follow whatever decision they take."
The SAI-Gopichand academy in Hyderabad has been shut down till March 31 to contain the virus following the directive of the Telangana state government.
Asked if it will affect the preparations of the Olympic-bound players, Gopichand said, "The players who had come from All England via various places like Dubai, they have to be quarantined. They don't have any tournaments in April, so till the time, it is a two-week break from training it is fine. If it extends further then we will have to see.
"The players also need some rest, so it is better to stay home and work on fitness."