Iain Hepburn | September 18, 2012
The dispute between Japan and China over an uninhabited group of islands in the East China sea claimed an unlikely set of victims – China’s top badminton players.
The Chinese players had been among the favorites to win the Japan Open this week – but have now been pulled from the line-up.
The move clearly caught organizers by surprise, as the Chinese players’ profiles were still on the competition’s website this morning.
An employee of the Table Tennis & Badminton Management Center at General Administration of Sport of China told Reuters the decision to miss the tournament in Japan had been made in the past two days, but she would not say why.
But the Chinese coach Li Yongbo has reportedly claimed the decision wasn’t down to the disputed territory – and instead that the players are exhausted after taking part in the Olympics, the Badminton Super League and the Masters Super Series in quick succession.
Perhaps they are, although the timing – coming as diplomatic relations worsen over the disputed islands, called Senkaku by Japan and Diaoyu by the Chinese – is somewhat convenient, coming after anti-Japan protests in China.
Things escalated in the last week after Japan bought some of the islands from a private owner and nationalized them, while China announced precise boundaries around the waters it was claiming.
Whatever the real reason, after none of them showed up in Japan, the organizers were forced to rejig the draw for the event.
Their absence paves the way for Malaysa’s top player, the current world number two, Lee Chong Wei to win.
Wei lost the final last year to China’s Chen Long, but with none of them taking part, he’s been bumped up to number one seed.
“It’s unfortunate that China have withdrawn as it will certainly dilute the level of competition,” said Malaysia’s singles coach Rashid Sidek.
How heartfelt he was, though, hasn’t been disclosed…