On it, mixed doubles duo Dechapol Puavaranukroh and Sapsiree Taerattanachai made a clean sweep of three titles at the Yonex Thailand Open, the Toyota Thailand Open, and the HSBC BWF World Tour Finals 2020.
Off it, the government, represented by Tourism and Sports Minister Phiphat Ratchakitprakarn, and the Badminton Association of Thailand (BAT), led by its president Patama Leeswadtrakul, got a pat on the back for their “historic achievement” in organising three successive events under strict protocols in “bubbles” during the COVID-19 pandemic.
With their triumph at the Yonex Thailand Open, Dechapol and Sapsiree became the first mixed doubles pair from the country to win a top-notch Super 1000 event.
The hat-trick of titles at Bangkok’s Muang Thong Thani made them the first mixed doubles pair to win three consecutive Super 1000 crowns.
Sapsiree, 28, and Dechapol, 23, are now considered Thailand’s best bet to win a medal at this year’s Olympics in Tokyo.
Indeed, Dechapol and Sapsiree, both products of SCG Badminton Academy, are legitimate medal contenders as they are now No.2 in the world in the category following their wins last month.
Dechapol and Sapsiree, who were ranked third before the Asian leg, are only behind Zheng Siwei and Huang Yaqiong in the world rankings.
The Chinese pair and their compatriots, as well as Japanese players, did not take part in the Bangkok leg due to coronavirus-related issues.
Dechapol, better known among Thai fans as Bas, said he is not interested in dethroning Zheng and Huang and that his only target is the Tokyo Games.
Sapsiree, affectionately called Popor by Thai media and fans, is aiming higher.
“I believe we will get one of the medals,” said Sapsiree. “Our ultimate goal is the gold medal.”
Former BAT president Charoen Wattanasin said Dechapol and Sapsiree are good enough to win a medal at Tokyo 2020.
However, Charoen does not believe that other Thai shuttlers will be able to make it to the podium at the Games.
“Dechapol and Sapsiree are the only hope [for an Olympic medal] for Thailand. Other Thai players may be able to qualify for the Games but they are not good enough to win a medal because Chinese and Japanese players will be in Tokyo,” said Charoen, a former world-class shuttler.
Charoen may be right judging from Thailand’s overall performance at the Asian leg.
World No.6 Ratchanok Intanon, the country’s highest-ranked singles player, had a disappointing campaign on home court. Her best result in the three events was a semi-final spot.
Ratchanok, who reached the quarter-finals at the 2012 London Olympics, failed to advance past the group stage in the World Tour Finals 2020 after losing to compatriot Pornpawee Chochuwong and Taiwan’s Tai Tzu-ying who went on to claim the title.
Women’s doubles duo Jongkolphan Kittitharakul and Rawinda Prajongjai reached the final at the Yonex Thailand Open, partly because of the absence of Chinese and Japanese players.
Reward for hard work
Thailand spent around B300 million to organise the three events with B239mn coming from the government.
The tournaments boosted the image of the country as the government and the BAT were congratulated by global sporting bodies, including the International Olympic Committee (IOC) and the Badminton World Federation (BWF), for the smooth conduct of the three events despite a new surge in coronavirus cases in the country during that time.
“It helped promote the country and could be an example for other sporting bodies to follow, particularly hosting events during the COVID-19 pandemic,” said BAT president Patama, who is also an IOC member and a BWF vice-president.
“The success could not have been achieved without support from all parties concerned in the public and private sectors including medical staff and volunteers. I really appreciate their hard work.”
Patama’s predecessor Charoen tweeted: “It won praise from many countries and could be a blueprint for Japan in staging the Olympics. It showcased Thainess and was really impressive.”
BWF secretary-general Thomas Lund said the Bangkok events could be a model for future tournaments.
“This could be a blueprint as to how we can conduct a tournament and then move that onto further cluster tournaments in 2021,” said Lund.
IOC president Thomas Bach congratulated the parties involved for safely organising the events which could boost the Olympic movement’s confidence in preparing future events, particularly the 2020 Olympic Games, which were postponed from last year.
“The health and safety of the athletes and all participants remains our top priority for the Olympic Games,” said Bach. “We will include the lessons from these recent badminton tournaments in Thailand in the overall COVID-19 countermeasures that will be in place in Tokyo.”
Sheikha Ahmad Al-Fahad Al-Sabah, president of the Olympic Council of Asia, said it will be recorded in history books as one of the major sporting achievements in pandemic times and inspire other sports to hold competitions and provide opportunities for athletes to participate.
Dutch mixed doubles player Selena Piek said she was impressed by the COVID-19 measures during the tournaments. “I expected it to be strict, but I didn’t expect it to be this strict, to be honest. So credit to Thailand and the government and the other stakeholders for working extremely hard,” she said.