Friday, July 20, 2012 | | By: Febi

Female Malaysian Athlete Gets Opening Ceremonies Nod

By Shibani Mahtani and Celine Fernandez
Agence France-Presse/Getty ImagesDiver Pandelela Rinong competes in the FINA/Midea Diving World Series in Beijing, China.
For the first time in its history, Malaysia has afforded a female athlete – diver Pandelela Rinong – the honor of bearing the country’s flag at the opening ceremonies of the 2012 Olympic Games in London.
But the decision is not without its critics, and has upset some within the Malaysian sports circuit who insist that Lee Chong Wei – Malaysia’s badminton star and a silver medalist at the Beijing games – is more deserving of the title, which is usually conferred to the most prominent and celebrated athlete within the national contingent.

Lee, the first Malaysian to reach the final of the men’s singles badminton event and the first to win a medal for the country since 1996, has long been a prized athlete in the Southeast Asian country. But an ankle injury has left fans wondering whether he can clinch a gold medal at this year’s games. Lee, 29, has said that this will be his last appearance at the Olympic Games.

The nomination process for the flag honors – usually a seamless and uncontroversial affair – turned messy when the Badminton Association of Malaysia (BAM) asked that Lee be considered for the task over Rinong, after it was announced last week that the female diver would represent the country as its flag bearer. The badminton association cited his credentials as a prominent sportsman for their appeal, coupled with this being Lee’s last Olympic games. He has not carried the country’s flag at any of the previous Olympic Games.

The Olympic Committee of Malaysia (OCM) resolved the differing opinions through a vote, in which the executive committee of the organization decided in favor of the diver.

“OCM has the right to select who the flag bearer will be but we also consider other views, because we are not that power crazy,” said Sieh Kok Chi, secretary of the Olympic Council of Malaysia.
Rinong, 19, was the flag bearer for the Malaysian contingent at the 2010 Youth Olympic Games in Singapore, and won a silver medal in the same competition.

“We have gone through the process. Pandelela deserves a shot, just like Lee Chong Wei,” Sieh Kok Chi said.

Sporting authorities within Malaysia have cited Lee’s injuries as a reason for selecting Rinong over him, particularly since his first event at the Games is two days after the opening ceremony.

“We considered the fact that Chong Wei was recuperating from his injuries… we wanted him to rest,” Zolkples Embong, the director general of Malaysia’s National Sports Council, said in a phone interview, adding that Lee would have “definitely [been] a better choice” if both were fit and had days to rest after the opening ceremony.

For fans of Pandelela Rinong, though – especially those from her home state of Sarawak – the dithering over her confirmation as Malaysia’s flag bearer was unfair. Though less famous than Lee nationally, she was named Malaysia’s sportswoman of the year this April for the first time. Lee won the title of sportsman of the year for three years running, including for 2012.

“Malaysia’s sportswoman of the year is indeed deserving of the honor,” wrote a blogger from Sarawak who goes by the online name of Parochial Sarawakian. “To take it away from her now is a real slap in the face of her achievements, it’s a slap in the face for sportswomen, and a slap in the face for all Sarawakians,” the writer said in a post written just before the vote.

The athletes themselves seem to be less concerned with the flag-bearing duties, and more intent on their own competitions. Speaking to reporters, Lee said that Pandelela Rinong “deserves the honor as well” and has helped “put Malaysia on the world map” thanks to her achievements in diving.

“It doesn’t matter whether I attend as a flag bearer or just a member of the contingent. I don’t want to miss the atmosphere of the world’s biggest sporting event in my last Olympic outing,” said Lee, according to a blog entry posted by his media advisor Satwant Singh.

Besides Lee and Rinong, 26 other Malaysian athletes will also compete at the Olympics this summer in events including fencing, cycling, archery, swimming and track.

By Shibani Mahtani and Celine Fernandez -


Post a Comment