KUALA LUMPUR: In the wake of singles ace Lee Zii Jia’s decision to opt out of the Commonwealth Games, former badminton great Datuk Lee Chong Wei said he would not have skipped the multi-sports event for any other competition.

The former world number one said playing in the Commonwealth Games had always been his priority as it was held once every four years, unlike the world championships, which are staged yearly except during an Olympic Games year.

“The world championships are more important for one’s career but the Commonwealth Games is far more important for the country,” he told Bernama when contacted today.

He said this when asked to comment on independent player Zii Jia’s withdrawal from the Commonwealth Games in Birmingham, slated to be held from July 28 till Aug 8.

In a video shared with the media last night, Zii Jia said difficulties in coping with a tight schedule and the need to focus fully on the world championships in Tokyo from Aug 22-28 prompted him to skip the games.

Chong Wei never failed to deliver gold for Malaysia, including three in men’s singles, since he made his debut in the 2006 edition in Melbourne, Australia.

The Penangite missed the Glasgow 2014 Games due to injury.

The three-time Commonwealth Games champion pointed out that Zii Jia’s absence could prove costly for Malaysia in their bid to win two gold medals as targeted by the Olympic Council of Malaysia (OCM) last week.

“It’s definitely tough for the Malaysian men’s singles players to win gold because there are Indian players, Singapore’s 2021 world champion Loh Kean Yew and Bryan Yang of Canada,” he added.

Chong Wei believed that Zii Jia’s decision would also dim Malaysia’s hopes in the mixed team event although they would still have the services of world number six men’s doubles pair Aaron Chia-Soh Wooi Yik, world number 10 women’s doubles pair Pearly Tan-M. Thinaah and the experienced Chan Peng Soon in mixed doubles.

The three-time Olympic Games silver medallist said Zii Jia’s status as a professional had made it easier for the 2022 Badminton Asia Championships winner to skip Birmingham.

“The fact that he’s no longer part of the national team made it easy for him to not play in Birmingham. If he was in the national team, Commonwealth Games would surely be a priority,” he said.

He said the Badminton Association of Malaysia’s number one singles Ng Tze Yong now has no choice but to shoulder a huge responsibility to fill the void left by Zii Jia in Birmingham.

Chong Wei hoped the world number 48 will be prepared to showcase his best in the event at the National Exhibition Centre. - Bernama