IT was a week when a few youngsters made me smile.
A colleague T. Avineshwaran, who joined the StarSport team two years ago, was given joint fifth place by the International Sports Press Association (AIPS) in the best column category for his commentary on “Kick out the racists in football”, which was published a year ago.
While happy with the recognition, Avineshwaran knows that it will mean nothing if racism continues to rear its ugly head in Malaysian sport.
He is more than determined to work harder to write the truth, expose the wrongs and give voice to the voiceless. The future is bright in journalism if we continue to have a young breed of writers like this.
Similarly, Lee Zii Jia, who will turn 23 on Monday, has brightened up the gloomy Malaysian badminton scene.
Zii Jia on Sunday emerged as the All-England men’s singles champion to reignite the fire in the game that many thought had fizzled out with the retirement of Lee Chong Wei in 2019.
Zii Jia defeated Kento Momota of Japan in the quarter-finals and Viktor Axelsen of Denmark in the final – at a time when people least expected him to shine.
Beating two world champions is no mean feat, considering that the Malaysian was on the brink of depression having had to deal with his failures in Opens in Thailand just two months ago.
Like everyone, of course, the hope is to see Zii Jia continue his winning ways and keep the nation’s flag flying high.
One must not forget Pearly Tan and M. Thinaah too, who took their chances well in the absence of some top pairs to reach the quarter-finals in their All-England debut.
But let’s not make the mistake of the past and depend only on Zii Jia for badminton glory. We have hidden behind Chong Wei’s success for far too long.
Let’s not be blinded by Zii Jia’s victory as Malaysian badminton still has some catching up to do.
Japan, headed by chief coach Park Joo-bong, underlined their supremacy by winning four out of the five titles.
A country that used to be so weak in their doubles, showed the world how solid they have become with a 1-2 finish in the men’s doubles, women’s doubles and mixed doubles at the All-England.
Ironically, their doubles coaches are Malaysians Jeremy Gan (mixed), Tan Kim Her (men’s doubles) and Lee Wan Wah (juniors).
China, who were a dominant force, have yet to come out in full force due to the Covid-19 pandemic while South Korea chose to skip the European circuit this time.
It was unfortunate and sad that Indonesian players had to watch the matches from their hotel room in Birmingham instead of battling it out for the titles as they were all quarantined as a precautionary measure. One of the passengers in their flight tested positive for Covid-19.
While Malaysians may smile now, they must remember that we have been on a rollercoaster ride with many failures too.
Malaysia probably would have been consistently on par with some of the top badminton nations if not for constant changes in the training and coaching set-up.
Zii Jia is a player from Kedah who was sent to the BAM when he was 13 - that’s nine years.
What about players from other states? For now, only a few states like Selangor, Kuala Lumpur, Penang and Perak seem to be the supply chain for the national team.
We need to have the depth in the team. There are few other promising youngsters like Leong Jun Hao, Cheam June Wei in the men’s singles but they are unable to play in major tournaments because of their low ranking.
It’s only a matter of time before the 2019 All-England runners-up and national No.1 Aaron Chia-Soh Wooi Yik will break barriers in the men’s doubles but we need other pairs to snap at their heels.
The number of women players are shrinking too.
Is there any one standing tall in the same league with Nozomi Okuhara of Japan, who won her second All-England title the other day?
Our best – SEA Games champions Goh Jin Wei (2017 in Kuala Lumpur) and S. Kisona (2019 in the Philippines) have the talent but are still way behind.
While Zii Jia’s breakthrough win is timely just months before the Tokyo Olympic Games, let’s hope more new names will emerge to add more colour to Malaysian badminton.
* The writer received a text message from an elderly uncle in his 70s, “Rajes, I missed the All-England finals. Don’t watch much TV especially after 9pm. Good win, I hear. Please don’t lift him to the skies too quickly. Lest he comes crashing down.” It was sage advice. Let’s give Lee Zii Jia the time and space to be more mature in his game.