How many years of a playing career do professional sportspeople have? To answer that, I suppose it depends on the type of sports.
If you are a professional golf player, for example, you will have a longer playing career. Many professional golfers are still playing competitively in their 50’s.
For those involved in football and basketball, two tough contact sports, I believe 35 is the longest one is able to stretch.
Football star Cristiano Ronaldo, at 37 today, is among the exception but we know and he himself had acknowledged that he is at the tail end of his professional playing career.
What about badminton, the sport which is the subject of this article? This is actually about Lee Zii Jia, our Number One singles player, and badminton, a racquet game that is easily one of the most popular sports in the country today.
Well, our former great, Datuk Lee Chong Wei retired in 2019 when he was 36. Liew Darren, now 34, is our oldest who is still playing competitively. Liew also doubles as a sparring partner and assistant coach for Zii Jia.
Zii Jia is 24. He made a huge decision to turn professional a few months ago and for good reasons – primarily to develop himself into a world beater as he wishes to concentrate on badminton for a living.
His team, the people he employs also depend on Zii Jia’s successes for a livelihood now. The burden he carries on his young shoulders is heavy.
When a sportsman decided to turn pro – it is all about fending for himself and his team. That means he has to keep winning tournaments and find sponsors to sustain his life as a pro.
As Malaysians and badminton fans, it is only right that we support Zii Jia all the way. We rejoice and celebrate with him in his victories and share his sorrows and pain in defeats and when he sustained injuries.
Other than that, I don’t think it is our place to interfere or criticise him for the times when we thought he was weak and didn’t win or for the decisions he made even if we do not agree with them.
The recent negative comments from critics, who questioned Zii Jia for skipping the Birmingham Commonwealth Games is a case of outsiders who have absolutely no business in wading in on the matter.
This is where I think I must defend Zii Jia.
Firstly, I think the few officials in the Badminton Association of Malaysia (BAM) who had joined in the bandwagon to criticise Zii JIa should just go about doing their job in seeing to the development of badminton in Malaysia.
Looking at our declining standard of badminton, I think those BAM officials who are paid to develop the sport are not doing a good job at all. I suggest that they concentrate on their job and shut their trap about Zii Jia’s professional decision.
I also find it disappointing that former international Datuk James Selvaraj had questioned Zii Jia’s ‘national spirit’ last week, while Commonwealth Games deputy chef de mission Gerard Monteiro also expressed his disappointment with the player’s decision.
What is this ‘national spirit’ that Selvaraj was referring to? As far as I know, Zii Jia has always been proud to play for the country. Didn’t we see him proudly carrying the Malaysian flag at the opening ceremony of the Tokyo Olympics?
It’s unfair to question Zii Jia’s patriotism just because he could not play at the Commonwealth Games. Deputy Youth and Sports Minister Datuk Ti Lian Ker has already clarified that our badminton ace’s reason to skip the Games was due to fatigue a recurring injury.
I understand that BAM is depending on Zii Jia to help Malaysia win two gold medals – the singles and the mixed team event. Why this over-dependence on one person? Why is there no other Malaysian shuttler at par with Zii Jia? BAM must seriously provide an honest answer to this frequently asked question.
Turning pro has also made Zii Jia behave like a real professional, even in dealing with controversies.
A daily reported what he said when asked to comment on the brickbats against him, professionally stating that “I am unperturbed by the negative comments and I do not want to be drawn into a spat with the critics. I just want to concentrate on my game.”
That’s right, Zii Jia. Pay no attention to such negativities. Just do what you think is best for your career.
Many of us, who are your fans, wish to see you playing at a high level for as long as you can, and maybe become bigger than Lee Chong Wei one day. Good luck and Godspeed, Zii Jia.
The views expressed here are those of the columnist and do not necessarily represent the views of New Sarawak Tribune.