As Lee Zii Jia, Goh Jin Wei move on, BAM needs to do some soul-searching

To use a badminton analogy, it was a poorly executed lob that left the shuttlecock high up in the air. The crushing jumping smash that followed, was inevitable.

That smash resulted in broken egos, and obliterated whatever good work the BA of Malaysia (BAM) had done in recent times.

There had been very few instances in the past, where fans, athletes, observers and even politicians from both sides of the aisle, were all united, and on the same page. BAM’s decision during a meeting two weeks ago provided the impetus for this united front.

It remains unclear if any of the Council members had objected to, or even sought to debate the impact of suspending the nation’s top shuttler and world No. 7 Lee Zii Jia for two years.

In so doing, it would pretty much kill Malaysia’s chances at the 2024 Olympics, and may even snuff out his career.

Did any of them ask why women’s singles player Goh Jin Wei, was also penalised? She had earlier received the national body’s blessings to leave the stable last September due to health reasons, but returned to the scene as an independent player with KLRC Bhd earlier this month.

Was it a way for BAM to flex its muscles, to show who’s boss?

And was BAM’s declaration just before last year’s Tokyo Olympics – that “whether professional, or BAM players, we are all one Malaysian team” – merely lip service?

Equally mind-boggling is the fact that the same party who decided to penalise the two athletes, were suddenly hailed as “heroes” for lifting the suspensions and allowing the pair to play in any international tournament.

Seems like everyone wanted to be the “hero” in this episode, for reasons best known to them. And they’ve got the pictures to “prove” it.

The issue of shuttlers wanting to leave the national stable is not new. A similar thing happened in the 90s when Datuk Rashid Sidek, who ironically, took issue with Lee for leaving BAM, left the national body to play for Nusa Mahsuri. Roslin Hashim was another BAM player who joined the club then.

Their departure set tongues wagging. At the height of the saga in 1998, then prime minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad was quoted by Bernama as saying: “(Our) Players and officials seem to view lightly the question of national interests, and instead, give priority to their own needs.”

He refused to interfere in the episode.

Bottom line, Dr Mahathir believed that it should be sorted out by those involved. Perhaps he didn’t want to undermine the sports administrators then. Or perhaps, he wanted to show Malaysians, and the world, the quality of the sports leaders and stakeholders.

A precedent was clearly set in the 90s, but it was completely ignored.

Fast forward to last Thursday, Prime Minister Datuk Seri Ismail Sabri Yaakob entered court to pretty much put an end to the saga.

Some hailed it as an act of a concerned leader who embodied the true spirit of his ‘Keluarga Malaysia’. Others called it the perfect opportunity to use this “playing Cupid” to provide “good optics” for the upcoming Johor state election.

The fact that the prime minister had to step in says a lot. The fact that the national body relented showed that the latest decision was nothing more than an afterthought.

There would not have been such an uproar from players and fans from around the world had cooler heads, and common sense prevailed when the BAM Council first met over this matter.

Players leaving the national stable should not be viewed as a bad thing. If they truly want to be independent, they should not expect any perks or benefits. The same money, focus and energy can be spent on developing new talent.

Certain quarters seemed to have made some veiled “threats” – that those who turned pro would not enjoy the same perks and benefits as those under the aegis of BAM.

But there’s really no need for such “threats”, which reek of heavy-handedness and spite. If professional athletes want the services of the National Sports Institute, for example, make them pay for them, just like everybody else. You can’t have your cake and eat it, too.

There’s also fear that sponsors might want to break ties with BAM since the national stable would no longer have some of the best shuttlers in its fold. But sponsors might want to think twice about pulling the plug, as that would invite public backlash and hurt their branding.

In 2019, Nike was flayed after several athletes revealed how the brand, and other apparel companies, had treated them when they got pregnant. Following a huge public outcry, Nike was forced to change its policy, to guarantee that a pregnant athlete’s pay and bonuses could not be cut over an 18-month period, covering the eight months before the athlete’s due date, and 10 months after.

No fan would appreciate a brand that ditches a national association just because it no longer has a player, or two.

This entire BAM episode serves as a good lesson for present and future leaders. It shows that no one person is bigger than the sport.

For Lee and Goh, the outcome is the perfect way to usher in the Year of the Tiger. For Goh, who turns 22 today, it is the best early birthday gift anyone could hope for. The two will move on, and time will tell if their decision to go professional will truly benefit them.

As for BAM, it needs to reflect on things, and be more sensitive to its surroundings. It must go back to its vision, mission, and objectives. Those within must understand their role in the nation’s badminton ecosystem.

Does it want to be in the business of owning players, or stick to its core principles of, among others, developing players?

Having started this mess, it is crucial for BAM to embark on a journey of introspection to ensure that such a national embarrassment does not happen again.

BAM needs to do some serious soul-searching, and should be given the space to do so. Only then, can the national body truly move forward.

Here’s to a more productive, and promising, Year of the Tiger. Happy Chinese New Year!