Country should come before money, ex-BAM man says on pay packet for Zii Jia

KUALA LUMPUR: Many aspiring shuttlers would give their right arm to play for Malaysia. In the unique situation of professional Lee Zii Jia, BAM pays him to wear the Malaysia shirt in the Thomas Cup.

Following BAM's move to compensate Zii Jia for playing in the Thomas Cup later this month, Datuk James Selvaraj said wearing the national jersey is the highest honour for every athlete.

The former BAM high performance director said any player selected to represent the country in a prestigious championship should not take the opportunity for granted, and money matters should only come second.

"Out of Malaysia's 33 million population, only a few have the opportunity to become champions of the Thomas Cup.

"You may win individual titles like the All England, but the pinnacle is becoming the Thomas Cup champion.

"When you are selected to represent the country, you will definitely feel happy and proud. Money should be secondary.

"I'm not sure of the reason behind this decision (BAM to pay Zii Jia), but I firmly believe that representing the country is more important than anything else," said James today.

On Friday, BAM stated that Zii Jia would receive financial compensation for wearing the national jersey at the Thomas Cup. The world No. 11 will receive an undisclosed amount for each match he plays during the Thomas Cup campaign in Chengdu, China, on April 27-May 5.

For the record, Zii Jia is sponsored by Victor, a competitor to Yonex, one of BAM's main sponsors. Team LZJ, in a statement, explained that the compensation provided is related to his image rights as a professional player.

Commenting on the matter, James believes that only former world No. 1 Lee Chong Wei is qualified to speak on image rights.

"What can you say about Chong Wei? He had only been first or second (in world ranking), never losing in the first round.

"Chong Wei was a very different player who always prioritised the country's interests."

James felt that the BAM move (to pay Zii Jia for wearing the national shirt) would open the door for other independent players to demand the same treatment if they are selected to represent the country.

Just hours after news broke that Zii Jia would receive compensation to join the national squad for the Thomas Cup, he was shown the exit in the quarter-finals of the Asian Championships on Friday after losing to reigning All England champion, Jonatan Christie of Indonesia 21-11, 21-6.

The other men's singles players named for the Thomas Cup are world No. 18 Ng Tze Yong, Leong Jun Hao, Cheam June Wei and Justin Hoh.

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