Lee 'forgiven' by Malaysian majority

Lee 'forgiven' by Malaysian majority

He may have failed a drug test but Lee Chong Wei has not fallen from grace in the eyes of his fellow Malaysians.

The badminton superstar's career hangs in the balance as he faces up to a two-year ban after a prohibited substance was discovered in his urine sample.

But instead of suffering a backlash from the public and the media which tainted baseball star Alex Rodriguez faced, the 32-year-old Perak-born Lee's plight has instead sparked an outpouring of support as his country rallies behind him.

The world No. 1's Facebook page has been inundated with messages of sympathy from his forgiving compatriots.

Said the New Straits Times' sports editor Vijesh Rai, who has followed Lee's career for over a decade: "He's one of the most hard-working athletes around and the idea that he would take a short cut and cheat is unbelievable.

"There's still a tremendous amount of goodwill towards Chong Wei, and most Malaysians think this was a careless and unfortunate mistake and have already forgiven him."

Lee was treated for a thigh injury in July with the anti-inflammatory agent dexamethasone, which is allowed outside of tournaments and normally metabolises in the body within two weeks.

But a sample taken from him at the Badminton World Federation (BWF) World Championships in Copenhagen in August was later shown to contain trace amounts.

One of South-east Asia's few truly world-class athletes, Lee is also one of Malaysia's most recognisable sporting icons, whose popularity remains high even after this scandal.

Said Ng Mun Foong, a 27-year-old treasury analyst from Kuala Lumpur: "I can't believe he would do something like this and risk everything. Whatever happens, I'm sure he will bounce back and return to the top."

Support has also come from many quarters, including from his biggest rival, Lin Dan of China, while Singapore's top shuttler Derek Wong also empathised with Lee.

"It must be horrible for him, especially if he misses out on next year's World Championships and the Olympics in 2016 because that's always been his dream," said Wong who has faced Lee three times in his career.

Lee, who returned to training with the national team on Tuesday, is not ready to walk away just yet. Twice an Olympic silver medallist and three times a runner-up at the World Championships, he still harbours hope of finally winning the two titles that have eluded him.

The BWF is expected to announce its decision at the end of this month. If they impose the maximum two-year suspension, it could effectively spell the end of Lee's career. A more lenient six-month ban would allow Lee to return to action next March but he will slip down the world rankings to between No. 20 and 25.

"We've looked at the different scenarios and if that's the case then, he still has a month to qualify for the World Championships," said popular sports blogger and Lee's close friend Satwant Singh.

There has been no talk of retiring at this stage, he stressed.

"We've not even discussed that. He's concentrating on regaining his fitness and making sure he's ready to compete again."

jonwong@sph.com.sg


This article was first published on Nov 15, 2014.
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