Get Zii Jia ready to excel in Tokyo Olympics – Minister

Lee Zii Jia

PUTRAJAYA – Youth and Sports Minister Datuk Seri Reezal Merican Naina Merican has called on the Badminton Association of Malaysia (BAM) to immediately prepare national singles ace Lee Zii Jia to be a medal contender at the Tokyo Olympics in July.

He said the shuttler’s achievement in winning the All-England title had made him among the players to be feared, thus Zii Jia’s rivals would be studying and analysing his performances so that they would be ready for him next time.

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“Zii Jia is now a power to be reckoned with. They’re making game analysis, in terms of how many unforced errors he made and what are his strengths. I have asked BAM, their coaches and technical head (coaching director Wong Choong Hann) not to take too long to conduct their review.

“… most important is the last milestone we want him to achieve is to bring back the country’s first Olympic gold medal. Should that become a reality, it will be a way bigger achievement compared to winning other championships,” he said after the MyFit@Motorsports prize-presentation ceremony at Menara KBS here today.

Reezal Merican also hoped that Zii Jia would keep up his performance in the upcoming tournaments, including the Malaysia Open in May, until the Olympics.

The Alor Setar-born shuttler won the All England men’s singles crown after a thrilling 30-29, 20-22, 21-9 win over defending champion Viktor Axelsen of Denmark at the Utilita Arena in Birmingham on Sunday. Zii Jia also sent world number one Kento Momota of Japan packing in the quarter-finals.

Meanwhile, Reezal Merican said the hosting of the World Motorcycle Championship (MotoGP), scheduled to be held from Oct 29-31, would be jointly studied with the Motorsports Association of Malaysia (MAM) following a rise in organisational costs due to standard operating procedures (SOP) to curb the spread of COVID-19.

“In principle, we have obtained approval from the National Security Council (MKN) for the organisation (of events) involving overseas participants, but this is subject to scrutiny of the KBS and MAM. If we have to organise it with strict SOP compliance, such as using the quarantine-based approach or having to conduct several swab tests, sometimes the cost can be very high.

“The Malaysia Open (badminton championships) will also require extremely high costs because each player will be required to undergo swab test and quarantine placement. For motorsports, which involves many marshals, surely the cost will be higher,” he explained.

8th place

Zii Jia has moved up two places in the Badminton World Federation’s (BWF) rankings to be placed eighth in the latest world ranking updated at midnight Tuesday.

After amassing 12,000 points as the All England champion, the 22-year-old now has accumulated 69,389 points from 25 tournaments played for his career’s best ranking, after having entered the top 10 in March last year, according to the BWF’s official site, https://bwfbadminton.com.

The victory at the Utilita Arena in Birmingham on Sunday (March 21) helped the Kedahan to overtake Angus Ng Ka Long of Hong Kong (69,270 points) and Wang Tzu-wei of Taiwan (63,393).

Zii Jia won the All England championship after defeating defending champion Viktor Axelsen of Denmark 30-29, 20-22, 21-9.

Japanese star Kento Momota remains at the top with 109,118 points from 15 tournaments, including 6,600 points from the prestigious All England, where he was eliminated 16-21, 19-21 by Zii Jia in the quarterfinals.

Danish stars Axelsen (98,486) and Anders Antonsen (94,875) also remain in the top three.

Swiss Open women’s doubles champions Pearly Tan-M. Thinaah also climbed three places, after earning 6,600 points by reaching the All England quarterfinals, to be ranked 19th in the world with 47,015 points.

In the women’s singles category, Soniia Cheah (38,931) dropped a rung to be placed 33rd, while S. Kisona (25,184) climbed up two places to be ranked 60th.

Mixed doubles players Tan Kian Meng-Lai Pei Jing also moved up a spot to be ranked 11th in the world with 62,770 points.

Back in Malaysia

Zii Jia has returned to Malaysia yesterday afternoon.

He was on a Turkish Airlines flight and landed around 4.45 pm at Kuala Lumpur International Airport (KLIA), along with the rest of the national squad.

After going through Customs and Immigration checks, Zii Jia, women’s doubles pair, Pearly Tan-M. Thinaah, who won the Swiss Open, and Badminton Association of Malaysia (BAM) technical coaching director, Wong Choong Hann exited the arrival hall around 6 pm.

The national squad then spent a few minutes with the media for a photography session while complying with physical distancing and after their baggage were sanitised, boarded a bus to the quarantine centre. No interview session was held.

The 2019 SEA Games gold medallist will undergo mandatory quarantine for seven days at a hotel in Kuala Lumpur according to the standard operating procedure (SOP) set by the government for all individuals returning from abroad and under the watch of the National Disaster Management Agency (NADMA).

National Sports Council (NSC) director-general, Datuk Ahmad Shapawi Ismail and BAM secretary-general, Datuk Kenny Goh were among those who welcomed the national squad at the airport.

Meanwhile, NADMA’s KLIA quarantine operations commander, Abdul Manaf Che Isa said the national squad only had to undergo seven days of quarantine as they had taken a swab test abroad before coming home.