Risky for me to participate in National Games: Neeraj Chopra

Claiming that it would be a ‘bit risky’ to compete in the National Games after ‘just recovering from a groin injury, Olympic champion Neeraj Chopra hinted he might skip the event despite an Indian Olympic Association (IOA) missive making it mandatory for ‘eminent athletes’ to take part in the event.

A day after clinching the Diamond League Finals title in Zurich, Chopra said: “The plan was that Zurich would be the last competition. Now suddenly the date for the National Games has come up. I had spoken to the coach and he said I need to rest. I just recovered from a groin injury. There was a plan to go on a vacation; my family and friends are here for a week or so. I won’t be able to train. So this will be a bit risky. I’d like to start focusing on next year.”

Chopra isn’t the only top athlete who is considering skipping the National Games, which will be held in six cities across Gujarat from September 29 to October 12. Shuttlers PV Sindhu, Saina Nehwal and Kidambi Srikanth, too, are unlikely to compete in the Games.

Sindhu and Srikanth will be in peak training, preparing for the Denmark Open, starting October 18, and French Open, October 25 onwards. Ranking points in these two events are crucial, especially for Sindhu who has set the year-ending World Tour Finals, with a hefty tournament prize cheque of USD 15,00,000, as a priority tournament.

While Sindhu is second in the Race to Guangzhou rankings currently, Lakshya Sen is ninth and will need to play in Europe to make the cut. Srikanth is 12th in the race and is nursing an injury that’s restrained his performance since the Commonwealth Games. On Thursday, he said his first priority is to return to the court instead of competing in the National Games.

“I represent Andhra Pradesh. The state doesn’t have an entry in the team event, so I am still figuring out what to do about the individual event because I am injured at the moment. So the priority is to get back on court first,” Srikanth said.

Nat’l Games over Vietnam Open

While the top athletes are prioritizing recovery after a gruelling season or targeting ranking points instead of competing in the National Games, close to a dozen Indian badminton players have decided to pull out from this month’s Vietnam Open to make themselves available for the domestic event.

A BWF Super 100 event that offers ranking points and total prize money of $75,000, the Vietnam Open is scheduled to be held in Ho Chi Minh City from September 27 to October 2. The badminton competition of the National Games will take place in Surat from October 1 to 6.

Consequently, given the dates were overlapping, the shuttlers had to pick one of the two events. Indian players had populated the draw in each of the five categories – men’s and women’s singles, men’s and women’s doubles and mixed doubles. However, officials said around a dozen shuttlers decided to pull out of the competition on Monday, September 5, which was the last day to withdraw entries.

On September 6, the IOA in a letter asked the National Sports Federations and State Olympic Associations to ensure ‘all eligible eminent athletes’ take part in the Games. Eminent athletes were described as the ones who have taken part or won medals in international competitions.

Some of the top names in the Vietnam Open draw include Nehwal, Parupalli Kashyap, B Sai Praneeth, Subhankar Dey, Kiran George and recently-crowned junior World No. 1 Anupama Upadhyaya, among others. While Nehwal and Kashyap are likely to compete in Vietnam, it is learnt that second seed Praneeth, Dey, George, Upadhyaya and Mithun Manjunath are among the players who have decided to withdraw from the tournament.

“The Vietnam tournament was clashing and that wasn’t a very big tournament. It isn’t a small event either, a Super 100 tournament. But National Games is Indian Olympics, in a way. Players have been waiting for it for a long time. So you had to compromise somewhere,” a badminton federation official said. “State governments will give weightage to National Games results in terms of cash rewards and jobs. So that is good for the players as well.”

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