15/11/2023 08:38 PM

KUALA LUMPUR, Nov 15 (Bernama) -- Malaysia’s badminton legend, Datuk Lee Chong Wei had anticipated that national professional singles shuttler Lee Zii Jia would not be interested in participating in the Road To Gold (RTG) programme.

The three-time Olympic silver medallist said that Zii Jia's 'silent stance' until the programme's deadline had implied a reluctance to sign the Letter of Commitment (LOC) under the initiative.

During his time as a player until he hung up his racket four years ago, Chong Wei said he had never seen any national athlete reject any form of assistance offered by the government through the Ministry of Youth and Sports before.

"I’ve never heard an athlete not support any sports programme from the government. I believe this (Zii Jia) is the first time. During my time, if the government wanted to support, we were happy and accepted what they offered.

"Previously, there were complaints about why the government did not want to support athletes, but when there is an effort by the government to take care of athletes, some are rejecting it," he said when contacted by Bernama.

As a member of the RTG committee, he said they have never placed any restrictions on any athlete under the programme since it is an additional service to help them prepare in the quest to win the country's inaugural gold medal either at the 2024 Olympic Games in Paris or the 2028 edition in Los Angeles.

Asked whether Zii Jia's decision would alleviate pressure on him and potentially lead to better performance in Paris 2024, the RTG badminton team manager disagreed, stating that such situations exist for every athlete competing in any championship or sports event.

"Even if Zii Jia doesn't join RTG, the people will still expect gold from him. I don't think it will reduce the pressure," he said.

Yesterday, the RTG Committee announced Zii Jia's decision not to participate in the programme, which was reached through an online meeting with the LZJ team representing the 25-year-old athlete.

In the meeting, Zii Jia, represented by his coaches Wong Tat Meng and Liew Daren, and his manager Lee Zii Yi, explained his decision not to join the programme, citing no further need for additional assistance.

However, the LZJ team assured that they would continue to collaborate closely with all stakeholders in the lead-up to the world's largest sports event next year.

On Oct 31, Youth and Sports Minister Hannah Yeoh stated that Zii Jia was the only athlete yet to sign the agreement and was given a 14-day period to complete the relevant commitment, which ended yesterday.

Among the athletes in the RTG programme are national track cycling champion Datuk Mohd Azizulhasni Awang, 2022 world men's doubles badminton champions Aaron Chia-Soh Wooi Yik, and diving queen Datuk Pandelela Rinong.

Based on the latest Race to Paris rankings by the Badminton World Federation (BWF), Zii Jia currently stands at ninth place with 59,076 points.

According to the format, each country is allowed to send two representatives for individual events at the Olympic Games if both players are within the top 16 of the Race to Paris rankings.





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