By Norbakti Md Alias
Kuala Lumpur: Malaysia was recently shocked by national badminton ace Datuk Lee Chong Wei’s outburst against Badminton Association of Malaysia (BAM) technical director Morten Frost Hansen.
Chong Wei, the world number one men’s singles shuttler, in his outburst had remarked that Frost, a former badminton superstar himself, seemingly could not wait for him (Chong Wei) to retire.
Suddenly, Chong Wei, who has never been linked to any disciplinary issues, was considered a ‘bad boy’ due to his criticisms of Frost, while the Danish badminton legend, as usual, chose to remain silent. Is Chong Wei really big headed or simply voicing out his rights?
This is what he had to say in an interview with Bernama.
Question: Some say as a player, you have to follow the coach’s orders. Does this action show disrespect for the coach?
Chong Wei: I always respected the coach, and all coaches who have ever coached me. During my 18 years with BAM (Badminton Association of Malaysia),I have never fought or argued with what the coach had to say. In fact, I accepted anyone who was commissioned by BAM to train me, I never made any special requests. This is not about me going against the head coach, but I am just expressing my disappointment over Frost’s actions.
Question: BAM deputy president Datuk Seri Norza Zakaria has advised both of you to set aside your egos. Is this a matter of ego?
Chong Wei: I have a lot of respect for Datuk Seri and often follow his advice. I agree with him, we need to find a solution, but I need to emphasise once again, this is not about egos, but that I am very disappointed with what has happened. These things should not happen, as we all have the same goals.
Question: Are there people who consider you as being big headed in this case?
Chong Wei: Big headed? If I wanted to be condescending, I wouldn’t have gone for training until BAM changed the rubber mats. I continued to train, as I knew there was an important mission at the All-England tournament, which has an important value to me due to its prestige. I am at the end of my career, I do not need to play hero now. Have you ever seen me get angry like this before? In this matter, I was really challenged by Frost’s attitude.
Question: But why speak out only now?
Chong Wei: All this while I have remained patient, and my coach Hendrawan also often reminded me to be patient. But as Frost’s attitude this time went overboard and was truly challenging, like an attempt to sabotage me…I lost my temper. Beginning from the demand to change the surface of the court which went unheeded, to the statement made indicating he wanted me to retire. This is too much. Why can’t he wait to see me retire? Train the younger players to get ahead of me, why take the easy way? What has he done for me. He is not involved with my training. Since the time I returned from a doping suspension until I got the silver medal at the Olympic Games for the third straight time last year, all that was from the efforts made by myself and my two coaches, Hendrawan and Tey Seu Bock. What did he do? Sabotaging my chances by not allowing the juniors to spar with me in preparation for (the) Rio (Olympics).
Question: Everyone knows it was Frost who spotted your talent and took you into the badminton academy in Taman Maluri, Cheras back then. People may think you are ungrateful.
Chong Wei: I admit that Frost took me into the academy, I was not alone, there were dozens of other players in the group. That is the extent of his contribution. At the academy, I was trained by other coaches, not Frost. From there, I went into the junior squad before breaking into the seniors’. My talent was honed by Datuk Misbun Sidek, followed by Li Mao, and then again by Misbun. Under their guidance, I began to create a name for myself and eventually became a formidable player. I know, Frost has all this while taken credit saying he is the person behind my success, but I left it alone, because I know who are the real people behind my success. Maybe he forgot, there were dozens of other players he called up to play in the academy, why didn’t he mention that? I hope this explains the real scenario.
Question: All this while you have been so loyal to BAM, including the time Misbun left the national badminton governing body. Why lash out now? Is this simply because of Frost?
Chong Wei: Indeed, I have been faithful to BAM all this while because I have never had any major issue with the association. Without realising it, I have already been with the national squad for 18 years. At the same time, I also want to help the younger players improve by seeing me practise or by sparring with me. What’s more is I know I am at the twilight of my playing career. The current developments indeed make me tired because I want to focus on the game, but there are people who want to sabotage my chances, looking forward to my retirement. What is my mistake, and has my game deteriorated so badly? Or is he not confident of his own plans? Maybe outsiders do not know, they are happy to see the country’s young players achieve what they consider to be great results in international tournaments. However, you must be aware most of the tournaments are ‘International Challenges’ of low quality. I don’t think we need to pay a hefty salary to someone for making such plans, local coaches can do it if BAM permits. Just because he’s a foreigner, we see it as success, but if it were a local coach he would be criticised. I’m sure if the local coaches were paid as lucratively and given the trust, they could come up with a much better plan.
Question: You will turn 35 this October, many people have a cynical view of your ability and certainly there will be those who support Frost?
Chong Wei: I admit age is no longer on my side, but I have never used it as an excuse to weaken my spirit. As long as I have the energy, I will play for the country. Maybe they forget that I am still world number one at this age. No other national player can beat me, and this is not good for the country’s badminton. Maybe I still don’t have any major title to my name so far, and that is what strengthens my dream to at least get the world title in Glasgow this August, or the gold medal at the Asian Games in Jakarta next year. This is what motivates me to continue playing. There’s no need to force me to retire because I will know when my time is up. Trust me.