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Lee Zii Jia’s team claims ‘character assassination’ by Malaysian media

HANGZHOU – Two minutes were all it took for Malaysia’s top badminton player Lee Zii Jia to court controversy at these Asian Games.

On Thursday, the world No. 16 had suffered a surprise 2-1 defeat by South Korea’s 47th-ranked Jeon Hyeok-jin as Malaysia lost 3-1 in the men’s team round of 16.

Lee’s mixed zone interview at the Binjiang Gymnasium took just 112 seconds before it was cut short, as some Malaysian outlets accused the 25-year-old of snubbing the media.

Sin Chew Daily reported that while Lee was initially cooperative, the interview was abruptly halted by a volunteer at the instruction of Lee’s agent, who is also his older sister.

This sparked a strongly worded response from his management crew who wrote on Instagram: “Team LZJ would never do something of the sort and what happened at the mixed zone was under the purview of the Asian Games organisers.

“Team LZJ openly accepts criticism on performances as it is part and parcel of being in high performance sports but at this point in time we feel that we have tolerated enough unnecessary character assassination when it comes to reports concerning Lee Zii Jia.”

They also apologised for the defeat and added they always respect the nation’s media as a key entity that has helped shape the former All England Open and Asian champion as a person and athlete.

After being hailed as the successor to Malaysian legend and former world No. 1 Lee Chong Wei, Zii Jia has often been in the news for the wrong reasons.

Citing the pressure and regimented lifestyle, Zii Jia parted ways with the Badminton Association of Malaysia (BAM) to play independently in January 2022 and was branded a traitor by some. He was even suspended from competing for two years, although the ban was quickly reversed.

There was also the threat of legal action after his former coach Indra Wijaya claimed their November 2022 split constituted unfair dismissal.

In May, Zii Jia’s hiring of compatriot and Hong Kong national men’s singles coach Wong Tat Meng upset Hong Kong player Angus Ng, who was unhappy that the move happened so close to the Asian Games.

Three months later, Wong alleged they felt “bullied” by BAM for “mandating professional players not wear brands aside from BAM’s sponsor if they wanted to train (with the association)”.

Zii Jia then commented on the post: “Don’t say I’m ‘big-headed’ (because) I’m not attending training. It’s difficult to be Lee Zii Jia, everything (I) do is wrong, (it’s giving me) a headache.”

This prompted a rare rebuke from Chong Wei, who was reported by The Star as saying: “He is selfish as he only thinks about himself and not about BAM or the other players. He is one who threw away BAM and now they are giving him an opportunity to train there once or twice a week and he wants to create a problem.”

All these wrangles would not have helped Zii Jia as he slipped from a career-high world No. 2 after being knocked out in the preliminary rounds of 11 BWF World Tour events, although he did reach the last four at the All England, Swiss and Australia Opens this year, and will look to make amend’s in the Asiad’s singles tournament.

During an interview with The Straits Times in June, in which he talked about the highs and lows of his career, he said: “I believe after a storm, there will always be a rainbow. Therefore, I persist and persevere.”

He must be hoping for his day in the sun to come sooner rather than later.