KUALA LUMPUR: For a decade, world No. 1 Lee Chong Wei has feasted Malaysian fans with outstanding badminton results.
Fans can now expect a dry season for a long time in the men’s singles department if Chong Wei retires because there are neither talents coming through nor an effective programme implemented at the grassroots level.
On Sunday, Chong Wei defeated Tommy Sugiarto of Indonesia in the men’s singles final of the Maybank Malaysian Open to win his 10th home title – a feat that no others have achieved on the international circuit.
The two closest consistent winners on the international stage were eight-time All England champion Rudy Hartono and the late Wong Peng Soon, who had also won eight home titles.
It should have been a joyous occasion but a tired Chong Wei revealed that he may retire after the Asian Games in Incheon, South Korea, if his performance drops this year.
Before the Asiad, he will compete in the Thomas Cup Finals, Commonwealth Games and World Championships.
Badminton Association of Malaysia (BAM) is expected to do all they can to persuade Chong Wei to stay on until at least the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro.
They know that if they let him go, their lack of substance at the lower level will be laid bare – officially.
Chong Wei said that Liew Daren and Chong Wei Feng are the next in line to take over but sadly, the duo are battling with injuries and inconsistencies.
“If I am not around, these two players – Daren and Wei Feng – must step up and the others in line must be given due exposure,” added Chong Wei.
For now, those ranked lower than them like Goh Soon Huat, Iskandar Zulkarnain Zainuddin, Misbun Ramdan Misbun and Zulfadli Zulkiffli are struggling to find their footing. Their batch mates from abroad like Viktor Axelsen of Denmark, Tian Houwei of China and Kento Momota of Japan have stepped up to the big boys’ league.
The BAM are coming out with plans to beef up the grassroots plans by reviving the inter-school, inter-state and inter-club competitions.
This has been tried before and failed to either take root or take off because of poor implementation. Even if it works, it will take probably five to seven years before the nation can see some results.
While BAM will be scrambling to look into the lack of talents coming through and strengthening the grassroots programme, national coach Tey Seu Bock is remaining focused in getting Chong Wei ready for the remaining challenges for this year.
“He has slogged for the country for so many years and he is feeling the toll right now. I take my hat off to him for always being the one to deliver the goods for the country,” said Seu Bock.
“I will accept any decision that Chong Wei makes about his future after the Asian Games but for now, my job is to keep him motivated throughout this year. It is an important year,” added Seu Bock.
If indeed this is Chong Wei’s last year, the most memorable way to go out will be by becoming the country’s first world champion at the World Championships in Copenhagen in August and the Asian Games gold medallist for the first time.