Malaysian badminton star Lee Zii Jia will not be allowed to register for international tournaments for two years through his country’s federation, leaving him facing the prospect of not playing on the BWF international tour during that period.
Zii Jia, ranked seventh in the world, had quit his country’s national team recently to opt playing as an independent shuttler. He had has been held up as the heir to Malaysian legend Lee Chong Wei, rising rapidly up the rankings and scoring a breakthrough victory at the prestigious All England Open last year. But towards the back-end of 2021, his results suffered on the tour through a combination of performances and injuries.
“...as per terms of his contract, after much difficult deliberation, BAM have reached the decision to not register Lee Zii Jia for any international tournaments for a period of two years starting from January 18 2022,” said Jahaberdeen Mohamed Yunoos, Deputy President of Badminton Association of Malaysia, in a press conference.
The situation also applied to Goh Jin Wei, former women’s singles junior world champion who had retired due to health issues but wants to now come back to the circuit albeit independently. She will not be registered for events for a period of two years backdated from October 31, 2021.
He later added that if the players decided to return to BAM, the situation could be different.
“If they are required to be registered in any event requiring registration from BAM as the Malaysian governing body, we are not registering them,” the vice president stated in a press conference.
BWF requires even independent players to be registered through the member associations, irrespective of whether they are part of the national team set-up or not. Yunoos also insisted that “we are not banning anybody... we are not registering them. We keep using the word ban, that’s not correct. There are legal and factual differences. We are not registering them. Why? Because it’s ironical to register someone who doesn’t want to be with BAM.”
Yunoos added that while tendering his decision to withdraw, Zii Jia alleged, orally but not in the official resignation letter, that the pressure of the national team was too much and also that he found the methods regimented. There were attempts to renegotiate terms where Zii Jia wanted his own team of coaches, sponsors but that did not work for BAM, who have supported him for more than a decade.
After weeks of speculation, BAM president Norza Zakaria had confirmed recently that Malaysia’s top player had quit the body earlier this month.
“We see Zii Jia as an asset and we tried to persuade him (to stay) because we have groomed him since he was 13,” he had been cited as saying by The Star newspaper.
“Now that he has reached this stage, winning the All England, we certainly didn’t want to lose him because he has a bright future.”
“However, he told us that he’s no Lee Chong Wei and he cannot cope with the pressure,” added Norza.
Earlier on Friday, world No 1 Viktor Axelsen offered his support to Zii Jia.
The deputy VP said that the negotiations with Zii Jia proved futile. The 24-year-old shuttler did not want to reconsider his decision despite attempts by BAM to discuss terms. That decision had to be taken in national interests and protect the interests of sponsors with BAM and it was also stated that this was just a case of following due process and not a punishment.
“Obviously we feel extremely sad” about Zii Jia’s decision, Yunoos told reporters, adding it could affect training programmes and the body’s finances if players decide to quit contracts early.
But he added the player can appeal to return.
Zii Jia, previously seen as one of Malaysia’s best hopes of winning the country’s first ever Olympic gold medal, has yet to comment publicly since news emerged he was cutting ties with BAM. But he posed a story on Instagram, thanking a former decorated Malaysian player for his support.
“BAM is compassionate and we are ready to welcome back these players with open arms, if they are ready to appeal,” Yoonus told the media during the press conference, as quoted by New Straits Times.
“It has happened in the past, with Toh Ee Wei (mixed doubles). She also faced a two-year sanction but she appealed and we took her back in.
“But we need to be clear that BAM is bigger than any single player. This is national interest.”
Axelsen earlier this week voiced support for Zii Jia’s decision to go independent, tweeting that “it’s his career and his life after all”.
The BWF has not commented specifically on Zii Jia’s case. But in a statement Thursday, according to AFP, its secretary general Thomas Lund noted there was a precedent of independent players and a country’s member association reaching an agreement whereby the association submits entries into tournaments for the players.
Three-time Olympic silver medallist Lee Chong Wei, who retired in 2019, was one of the greatest players of his generation.
Danish veteran HK Vittinghus also came out strongly in support of Lee Zii Jia, stating on his Facebook page that, “A decision like today is an outright disaster for badminton.”
Anders Antonsen, who could well be the last player Zii Jia played on tour for a while, came out in support of him and Goh Jin Wei, calling out both BAM and BWF for the flawed system in place.
With AFP inputs