KUALA LUMPUR (AFP) – Malaysian officials on Saturday said an unnamed badminton player widely believed to be world number one Lee Chong Wei had failed a drugs test – but leapt to his defence, saying he would never take “shortcuts” to boost his career.
Reports of a failed drugs test by the long-time top player with a reputation for humility and diligence have shocked followers of what is one of Asia’s most popular sports.
“I want to stress this is not a performance enhancing drug. It shouldn’t affect (the public’s) perception of badminton. This is not (sprinter) Ben Johnson or (cyclist) Lance Armstrong,” sports minister Khairy Jamaluddin was quoted by The Star as saying.
His aide confirmed the comments. Norza Zakaria, deputy president of the Badminton Association of Malaysia (BAM), told a press conference that a player had been temporarily suspended after his B-sample tested positive for the banned anti-inflammatory dexamethasone.
Lee reportedly flew to Norway to witness a second test this week at a laboratory there, following a positive result in an initial test in late August.
Norza said the player could not be named citing due process, with the Badminton World Federation set to hold a hearing. The date for that hearing has not been set, he said.
Lee, who has been widely named by Malaysian media, faces a suspension of up to two years over the doping offence.
“I would like to inform you that we believe that this player is a very hard-working player and an exceptional individual,” Norza said.
“We also believe that this player has never resorted to shortcuts in his pursuit of success.”
Norza said officials were still probing how the substance could get into the shuttler’s system.
He said the player had denied taking the drug on purpose but received treatment in July for a thigh injury.
Lee, 32, received stem cell injections for a thigh injury in July.
“From our side, we have some justification that the player is innocent,” Norza said.
“The main priority is to assist the player… because he is a part of the BAM family. He has done a lot for the country.”
Badminton is not used to doping scandals, with previous controversies mainly stemming up from judging inconsistencies and attempts to throw matches.
Lee reportedly failed the drug test after the semi-finals at the World Badminton Championships in Copenhagen, when he beat Denmark’s Viktor Axelsen.
He lost to China’s Chen Long in the finals in another heartbreak for the shuttler. Lee has been at or near the top of the rankings since 2008, but has so far failed to win a world title or Olympic gold.
He is Malaysia’s most prominent male athlete and has been described by the prime minister as a national hero. BAM general manager Kenny Goh, who accompanied the player to Norway, said Lee was under strain at present.
“Of course this player is going through some kind of stress,” Goh said.
“It has been very stressful, and he needs all the support that he can get at the moment.”