It’s survival of the fittest – and we must select the best

ELEVEN years ago, independent shuttlers Gan Teik Chai-Tan Bin Shen qualified on merit for the World Championships but they were not selected to represent Malaysia.There was a hue and cry, but there was no social media pressure then and no VIP came to their aid. They sought the help of the Olympic Council of Malaysia (OCM) but to no avail.

Eventually, though, they were compensated with money to play in several international tournaments.

Fast forward to 2022, and nothing much seems to have changed.

Now, independent shuttler Soong Joo Ven is being denied a chance to represent Malaysia in the Thomas Cup Finals.

Joo Ven and Cheam June Wei were not called up for a centralised training although they were ranked higher. Instead, juniors, who are still wet behind their ears, like Ong Ken Yon and Shaqeem Eiman Shahyar have been called up.

The selectors did name other independent shuttlers like Lee Zii Jia, Liew Daren, Goh Jin Wei and Ong Yew Sin-Teo Ee Yi but Jin Wei was left out from the Asian Championships although she too is ranked higher and qualified on merit.

Different rules for different tournaments? Different criteria for different players? What is the justification? Where – and how – do we draw the line?

For the Thomas Cup Finals, having the top three players – Lee Zii Jia, Liew Daren and Ng Tze Yong – makes sense, as Tze Yong will be stronger as third singles.

Instead of naming independent players as reserves, the selectors may want to expose juniors at a major tournament.

Where does that leave the independent shuttlers, who have proven themselves? It’s bad enough that they have to find their own funding and pay for their own training and coaches.

But if they don’t get a chance to play in big tournaments, it will be tougher to attract sponsors.

Selectors obviously have their own problems. They not only have to choose the best but also weigh different factors like tactics and building for the future.

In the end, the athletes who get overlooked, pay a heavy price despite their best efforts.

It’s not just in badminton.

Every time, national football head coach Kim Pan-gon chooses his team, all eyes will be on him to see whether the Korean has chosen the right squad.

Some will be unhappy. Some will cry foul. It’s worse when there are outside hands meddling in the selection process.

In athletics, too, they have been many such cases.

If it’s bad at national level, it’s worse at the lower levels.

In tennis, for example, it is learnt that players who fought hard to help Malaysia qualify for the Under-16 Davis Cup in Sri Lanka have not been selected for the next round in New Delhi, India.

Instead, decision-makers decided to conduct a fresh selection trial with a late notice. Players were given 24 hours to attend it.

An aggrieved parent wrote to StarSport last month. “The whole selection process was not done in a transparent manner, but just catered to certain players,” she claimed.

“People are afraid to voice out about this abuse of power because it might affect their kids.”

Other parents are feeling disappointed, frustrated, angry, and helpless too. No one wants their children to be victimised.

We really need to examine our selection policy to be more transparent and there must be clearer guidelines. We have to tell athletes upfront what is expected of them.

In Australia, athletes take unfair selection very seriously.

A study on “The elite athletes selection system in Australia: selectors’ perceptions” by Sandra Hillas, has shown that appeals on selection from their athletes to the Court of Arbitration for Sports (CAS) have increased - five for Atlanta Olympic Games (1996), 12 for Sydney (2000), and 16 for Athens (2004).

Athletes are getting more courageous about speaking up and acting on what they perceive as wrongful selection.

Having said that, some athletes have to accept it too if they are not good enough. They just need to try harder to make the cut the next time around.

There are many major events coming up such as SEA Games, Commonwealth Games, Asian Games, World Championships, and big events for the juniors too.

Will there be more outcries? Or will there be tears of joy?

We pray that the best players get to represent Malaysia, even if they are not liked by the selectors.

The country must always come first.

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