SHUTTLER Soniia Cheah went through two surgeries to recover from her ruptured Achilles tendon between 2013 and 2015.
It could have been so easy just to walk away from the sport but she did not give up. Instead, the 29-year-old national No. 1 persevered and is now on the brink of qualifying for her first Olympics in Tokyo.
Vivian Hoo reached the women’s doubles quarter-finals of the 2016 Rio Olympics with Woon Khe Wei. While Khe Wei quit due to a nagging knee trouble in 2018, Vivian stayed on to guide her new junior partner to the top.
The 30-year-old Vivian led Yap Cheng Wen to be ranked 17th in the world within two and half years.
Goh Soon Huat was a singles player while Shevon Lai Jemie was a doubles shuttler but in the middle of 2016, they were brought together to start from scratch in the mixed doubles.
They won their first title together at the Malaysian International Challenge. The Singapore Open champions went through so many challenges together, injuries and illnesses, but are now ranked 10th in the world and still have an outside chance of qualifying for the Olympics.
Then, there is Lai Pei Jing, who gave equal devotion in the mixed doubles with partner Tan Kian Meng. They are ranked 12th in the world.
But all five – Soniia, Vivian, Soon Huat, Shevon and Pei Jing – have been unceremoniously dumped from the national team just as they were looking forward to celebrating Chinese New Year. They were as shocked as everyone else.
Why now, and why not after they have completed the last lap of the Tokyo Olympics qualifying period, which will resume in March and end in April. It’s just two more months.
And why do it in this manner – being dropped from national duty now after every ounce of their talent had been squeezed from them over all these years?
I still remember how these players were praised when they brought honour to the country. How unappreciated they must feel now.
Here is another question behind Badminton Association of Malaysia (BAM)’s decision. Why axe them when they are in the midst of adjusting to their new coaches?
BAM just restructured their coaching set-up few months ago by appointing Indra Wijaya, Chan Chong Ming and Paulus Firman as the new chief coaches of women’s singles, doubles and mixed doubles respectively.
These coaches did not even have time to warm up with these players, what with the MCOs and all. On top of that, there were no disciplinary cases.
BAM’s coaching director Wong Choong Hann said the management were not happy with the players’ performance at the back-to-back tournaments in Thailand last month.
It was the players’ first series of tournaments in 10 months. The BAM did not set any target for the team – knowing very well that lack of competitions may see some of them struggle to regain their touch.
On top of that, these players had to go through strict standard operating procedures while playing under the bubble system in Bangkok.
These players could have chosen not to travel to Bangkok, like the Chinese and Japanese did, so as to not risk the Covid-19 infection. They did take the risk and what did they get? The horror of being kicked out from the national team.
A tongue-lashing for poor form would have made more sense.
I spoke to Choong Hann and BAM’s coaching and training (CNT) chairman Datuk Kenny Goh, to try and understand the rationale behind the so-called collective decision made by the CNT, and endorsed by all the council members.
I’m not even sure whether half of the council members are aware of what’s going on.
Can we hold the management, coaches and council members responsible for the January failure too? Why only the players have to take the blame?
To be fair, the BAM did say that the move would serve as a stern reminder to all others, especially the juniors that they do not tolerate mediocrity in the team.
At any other time, this decision would have been applauded. More so, if the juniors were snapping at the heels of the seniors but the standard between the seniors and juniors is still wide.
This is no time to exercise this sudden “no-nonsense” approach.
After all, just two days after dropping the players, the BAM did an about turn and decided to fund three players – Soon Huat-Shevon and Soniia for next month’s Olympics qualifiers in Europe.
If they did not believe in these players, why send them to these tournaments after dropping them? Wouldn’t it have been better to have just waited for the Olympics qualifiers to be over.
Then, BAM could have sent off the players with a good handshake and with appreciation over their years of service with the national team, and let them leave with heads held high.
After all, these players have done well in many tournaments and it does not seem fair to sever ties with them at this stage, even if their game is seen to have plateaued.
Fortunately, Soon Huat-Shevon, Vivian, Pei Jing and Soniia, have taken this unexpected turn of events in their careers, at a trying time, on a positive note.
They will continue to play as independent players and pursue their dreams to play in the Olympics. And hopefully, some sponsors cum saviours will come to their rescue.
We salute them for their years of tireless service and determination, and wish them the best.
Gong Xi Fa Cai.