Indonesia's forced withdrawal from badminton's All England Open Championships over coronavirus fears prompted a diplomatic appeal on Thursday as players were "in shock" and fans erupted online.
The Indonesian team was ruled out after a passenger on their flight to Britain tested positive for the coronavirus, triggering a 10-day period of self-isolation under British rules.
The All England, already missing leading nations China, South Korea and Taiwan, because it does not count towards Olympic qualification, is the biggest tournament before the Tokyo Games start in July.
Indonesian Badminton Association head Agung Firman Sampurna said "one way to prevent Indonesia from winning is keeping it from competing". "It made me feel like I was struck by lightning," he said of the withdrawal.
Indonesia's government told its ambassador to Britain to petition for a reversal and "make sure there's no discrimination and unfair treatment".
"The Indonesian Ambassador to the UK has been in contact with his British counterpart in Jakarta... and has asked for his intervention," said a statement by London-based envoy Desra Percaya.
"This morning, the Indonesian Embassy will directly approach the British authorities," it added.
The start of the prestigious All England Open was delayed on Wednesday after a number of positive and "inconclusive" Covid-19 test results. All were retested and proved negative, allowing the event to begin five hours late at 2:00 pm (1400 GMT) with all participants cleared to play.
However, the Indonesians – including players who won their opening matches – were forced out, handing walkovers to their opponents.
"All Indonesian players will not be able to compete in the current or next round of the tournament and have therefore been withdrawn from the All England Open 2021," the Badminton World Federation said.
'Where's the pride?'
Several Indonesian players won on Wednesday, including men's fifth seed Jonatan Christie and top-ranked men's doubles pair Marcus Fernaldi Gideon and Kevin Sanjaya Sukamuljo.
Gideon said the team was "in shock" and questioned why it was being penalised after taking precautions, including being vaccinated and tested before departure and upon arrival in Britain.
"The result were ALL TURNED NEGATIVE," he wrote on Instagram. "BWF should have enrolled a bubble system that guarantee our safety. Players should have undergone a quarantine before the event."
Indonesia's sports minister Zainudin Amali said the team was being punished for something that is "not their fault", and raised concerns over rumours that an athlete from another country on the same flight was cleared to play.
"If that's true... it's unfair," he told reporters in Jakarta, noting that Indonesia is a "significant power" in the sport.
Meanwhile, social media users in the badminton-mad country vented their anger online, deluging the BWF's Instagram page. "If other countries win without Indonesia, where's the pride?" one asked.
Another said: "BWF has failed to create a better system to make players safe. Take a look at how Thailand held their tournament and compare to All England."
International competition resumed in Denmark in October, but was suspended again until January when three tournaments, including the World Tour Finals, were staged in a biosecure "bubble" in Thailand. (burs-pb/th)