'Please don't pressure Zii Jia'

KUALA LUMPUR: Youth and Sports Minister Hannah Yeoh believes the media should protect Lee Zii Jia as the world No 4 is Malaysia's flag bearer in world badminton and a gold-medal prospect at next year's Paris Olympics.

Yeoh felt that the limelight has piled unnecessary pressure on the 2021 All England champion.

Zii Jia was at the centre of attention following inconsistent results before showing signs of revival with semi-final showings at the recent All England and Swiss Open.

Yeoh will assist Zii Jia with a meeting scheduled tomorrow at the ministry's office in Putrajaya. Speculation is rife that the reigning Asian champion could return to the national team — just 14 months after turning professional.

At the Road to Gold press conference in Putrajaya today, Yeoh deemed recent media reports as "not necessarily healthy".

"We know that there is so much interest in Zii Jia," said Yeoh.

"Just the news articles (written) on our (forthcoming) meeting alone — I read so many articles about it. If I have to compare Zii Jia's challenge, where expectations are so great, it is not necessarily healthy sometimes with all these news reports."

Since leaving the national team, Zii Jia landed himself in several controversies, notably his Commonwealth Games call-up snub and dismissal of his coach Indra Wijaya, and it did not help that his form took a nosedive.

To be fair to the press, they merely report based on facts rather than sensationalising the issues.

Yeoh assured that Zii Jia will not enjoy preferential treatment. She reckons the assistance and support required by the reigning Asian champion would be identical to the rest of the independent shuttlers.

"For independent players, I think they just need greater support. Like every athlete, their needs will be different. I don't see Zii Jia's needs different from Pei Jing's, for example," said Yeoh.

However, the ministry is ready to fulfil any request deemed reasonable and within its capabilities from Zii Jia to help the shuttler win gold at the Olympics under the Road to Gold (RTG) programme.

As expected, Zii Jia is part of the RTG programme, dominated by badminton players.

The other six professional players in the programme are Ong Yew Sin-Teo Ee Yi, Tan Kian Meng-Lai Pei Jing and Goh Soon Huat-Shevon Lai.

"If Zii Jia says he wants to train in Ipoh, we will try to find a way to help him within our capacity, and of course, through a discussion with the RTG committee.

"Datuk Lee Chong Wei sits on the committee, so I am sure he can advise whether the request is reasonable."

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