KUALA LUMPUR: Former world No 1 Tan Boon Heong believes all top independent shuttlers, including Lee Zii Jia, must join national team training on a full-time basis in order for the Road to Gold (RTG) programme to succeed.
Although the RTG committee have yet to finalise the number of athletes and sports that will benefit from the programme, which is aimed at winning Malaysia's first gold at the Paris Olympics next year, Youth and Sports Minister Hannah Yeoh has hinted that athletes, deemed as medal hopefuls, are most likely to be roped in.
At least five independent shuttlers are considered as front-runners in the race for the Paris 2024 qualification spots, and have a shot at a podium finish.
Besides world No 4 Zii Jia, the other professionals ranked in the world top 10 are Ong Yew Sin-Teo Ee Yi (No 8 in men's doubles) and mixed doubles pair Tan Kian Meng-Lai Pei Jing (No 7).
Since November last year, the BA of Malaysia had opened the door to professionals and their coaches for joint training sessions with the national players at Academy Badminton Malaysia (ABM).
But it was limited to once-a-week sparring sessions where the independent players can opt to join if they want to.
"At this juncture, we're still unsure what the Road to Gold programme will look like.
"But in my opinion, obviously, full-time training is the way to go (for independents)," said Boon Heong.
"The ongoing once-a-week arrangement just won't work.
"Whoever gets selected by BAM will have a decision to make (to join or not).
"The professionals must be willing to accept the terms set by BAM.
"You just can't walk in as you wish. You have to be committed.
"But again, we also have to see if BAM themselves are open to having the independent players at ABM on a full-time basis.
"Well, I guess both parties will have to come to a compromise and work together for a common goal — that's to win our first ever Olympics gold. That's what exactly the RTG is for, isn't it?"
Boon Heong added that the full-time programme would be a good fit for Zii Jia especially since he is currently without a coach.
A return to Academy Badminton Malaysia will mean that Zii Jia gets to reunite with his former coach Hendrawan.
The long-serving Indonesian was instrumental in guiding Zii Jia to the All England title in 2021.
There's also Tey Seu Bock in the current men's singles coaching set-up, whom Zii Jia can tap into for experience and tips.
"I don't know for sure if Zii Jia is keen (being coached by Hendrawan). There must be a reason why Zii Jia wants to go solo in the first place. He has his own way of doing things," said Boon Heong.
"But if he really wants to train with the national team, he must place his trust in Hendrawan and other coaches.
"Zii Jia's returning to the ABM will definitely be good for the men's singles department as a whole if the coaches are able to manage it properly.
"Let's not forget BAM are channelling all their resources and focus to beef up Ng Tze Yong. We're already seeing the result.
"But If Zii Jia were to return, it will definitely change the dynamic a little bit.
"But I can see good things happening because Zii Jia and Tze Yong can only benefit from regular sparring between them."