Zii Jia’s unprecedented move sets the stage for a change

 THE last few days in the national badminton set-up have seen some deft moves, clever strokes, disguised returns and one killer smash – and it’s all been happening off court.After numerous dodges and denials of speculation, it was finally revealed on Wednesday that All-England champion Lee Zii Jia had resigned.

Zii Jia had in fact submitted his letter on Jan 11 but the Badminton Association of Malaysia (BAM) had kept it under wraps while they worked behind the scenes to convince their No. 1 men’s singles player to stay on.

When news of the resignation leaked after an emergency council meeting on Monday, some deflected the issue, some gave strong hints, others politely did not want to comment while a few denied it. Those close to the man preferred to stay mum.

It was almost as if there was more “tai chi” than badminton going on. But they all had reasons to react that way or keep their lips zipped.

We are now treading on uncharted ground. What the world No. 7 has done is unprecedented.

He is turning his back on what others consider the best place to be. It’s something that no one has dared to do.

Whatever the case may be, Zii Jia seems to believe that moving out is the only option for him, although he has stressed that, independent or not, he would continue playing for Malaysia.

There are two burning questions.

Why has Zii Jia quit? And what will the BAM do next?

Will they let him become an independent player without facing the music? It could set a dangerous precedent of top players walking out.

The BAM have already said they are disappointed. They will decide today on whether to hit him with a sanction or give him their blessings. It is likely that they will make him pay.

Zii Jia claimed he could not handle the pressure as a top player, especially with the expectations of filling Lee Chong Wei’s huge shoes.

Is the national body putting undue pressure on him to produce results? Are there rules in the house that are suffocating him? Is the training environment under coach Hendrawan not conducive? Is Zii Jia putting too much pressure on himself?

Or is there more to it?

Is he making demands that the BAM cannot meet? Like better perks and approval for personal sponsors?

Or maybe it’s none of the above and he is just motivated to try out something new.

There are obviously outside hands at work. Zii Jia would not have considered the move if he did not have a sponsor waiting in the wings to support his pro career.

And maybe there is the lure of training in Dubai along with Viktor Axelsen of Denmark and new world champion Loh Kean Yew of Singapore. That would give him quality sparring partners.

The only problem now is that Zii Jia needs the BAM’s blessings.

He can only compete in international tournaments if the BAM enter his name for the competitions.

The Badminton World Federation (BWF) will not entertain entries except those that come from their affiliates.And the BAM may have to be tough on Zii Jia to be kind to the others.

The national body provide the best for their players from a young age and they are not usually keen to let them go, especially when they reach lofty heights.

There is one way out of this – the national body can give in, change their mindset and also the way things are done.

They can provide options for their players to remain in their fold or turn pro. They have given blessings to other pros before, although it was for those who had served well and were no longer needed by the BAM.

A source said: “BAM can be the body that focus on development and let players go when there is an opportunity for them to earn extra bucks by joining a professional body and still represent the nation. It’s a win-win situation for all.”

“That is what’s being done by most countries anyway. Maybe, it’s time for BAM to do something different. They should not prevent a player from playing.”

If the BAM prevent Zii Jia from playing, it will not do the sport good.

Everyone will be at a losing end – the player, the national body and the nation.

Zii Jia’s decision has put everyone in a tough spot – but the situation can still be salvaged if all parties are willing to make a change for the good of the sport.

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