When former Chinese World No 1 badminton player Zhou Mi
announced last week that she would be competing for Hong Kong, she
could be forgiven for expecting a hostile reaction.
Poor form, injuries and heated competition for places had dimmed
Zhou's prospects of playing international badminton for China
again, so a move to another federation was a tempting prospect for
a player who felt she still had plenty to give.
"I came across Hong Kong's recruitment announcement on the
Internet accidentally. So I filled in a form and submitted the
application. I did not think I could join the team so quickly and
smoothly," said Zhou, 27.
"Yes, the Netherlands and Malaysia showed interest in me last
year. But if I win matches as a representative of other countries,
the feeling would be different. So I chose to join the Hong Kong
team. That means I am still Chinese," Zhou said.
To Zhou's surprise, China's badminton authorities backed her
"I support her move," said Li Yongbo, head coach of the national
This was a sharp contrast to last summer, when rumours of Zhou
switching to Malaysia drew an angry response from Li.
"Zhou should know who developed her into a top player," he said
at the time. "She should know the seriousness of her decision. If
she chooses another nationality, it is harming national
Important in Li's mind was that Zhou was playing for Hong
"Zhou used to be one of the world's top players and boasted high
prestige. It is understandable that Malaysia and Netherlands asked
her to join them. Now, she's made a final decision to be a member
of the Hong Kong association.
"They are all Chinese players. It doesn't make a difference
whether they play in the mainland or in Hong Kong."
Li's attitude has changed a lot since 2000, when ace player Wang
Chen announced her decision to play for Hong Kong amid reports of a
major falling out between the two.
Bad feeling still lingered in 2005, when Wang crashed out in the
semifinals of the National Championships and claimed she was being
unfairly treated by match officials.
"How can I beat 10 referees on the court? I know some people do
not want me to be the champion. That is because I defeated national
team players," Wang said after the Games.
The biggest nationality row in Chinese sport broke out at the
Asian Games in 1994, when Chinese-born table tennis player He Zhili
won gold for Japan.
He Zhili was world champion for China in 1987, but after
marrying a Japanese man in 1992 she switched nationality.
She beat Chinese player Deng Yaping in the final, but her on
court behaviour horrified Chinese fans, who saw her switch as a
betrayal. According to reports, she received threats in Japan
warning her not to return to China.
Zhou said that her main motivation for moving was to rediscover
her enjoyment for the sport.
"Over the past few years I've competed for gold medals. Now,
after experiencing so many ups and downs, I'm finding out how fun
badminton is. I am enjoying the sport right now," she said.
A prolific Zhou was the leader of the national women's team and
has a collection of titles under her belt, covering national and
But her best result at a World Championships was second place in
2003, and at the Athens Olympics in 2004 she could only claim
bronze. After Athens she was replaced as Number 1 by emerging idol
Xie Xingfang and veteran Zhang Ning.
Zhou's move is part of Hong Kong's efforts to attract excellent
persons from the mainland.
According to the plan, Hong Kong will offer citizenship to 1,000
outstanding people from different fields every year. Zhou is the
But, with memories still fresh of their defeat to Hong Kong's
Yip Pui Yin and Wang Chen at the Doha Asian Games, China's top duo
Xie and Zhang know they face a challenge to keep their No 1
Zhou is currently ineligible for the Beijing 2008 Olympics, but
this could soon change: Hong Kong coach Chan Chi Choi said Zhou
will start amassing points for Olympic qualification as soon as
But national head coach Li shrugged off the possibility of Hong
Kong challenging for gold in the women's singles in 2008. "She's
training with the Hong Kong team but cannot represent Hong Kong
yet," Li said. "Her injuries are too much of a problem for her to
be a threat."
If she can get fit, Zhou has the skills to beat World No 1 Xie
and No 2 Zhang.
Zhou has an almost 50-50 record against Zhang, though Zhang did
claim crucial victories in the Athens Olympics semi-final and the
2005 Masters Cup final.
But Zhou has a better record against Xie, including a semis win
at the 2005 Masters Cup and a series of victories at Open
Her father Zhou Tong revealed she still dreams of becoming
Olympic or World champion.
"She is 27 and still able to achieve something. She always
thinks she is only one step away from the top of the podium at the
World Championships or the Olympics. This time, she chose Hong Kong
and has given herself one more chance. As her parents, we stand by
(China Daily January 10, 2007)