Badminton: Singapore's ruling body SBA faces string of player exits led by Olympian Derek Wong

National shuttler Vanessa Neo and husband Derek Wong, Singapore's top men's singles player, spending time together in their executive condominium unit in Punggol. The Singapore Badminton Association has also been a home to them for years but the pair
National shuttler Vanessa Neo and husband Derek Wong, Singapore's top men's singles player, spending time together in their executive condominium unit in Punggol. The Singapore Badminton Association has also been a home to them for years but the pair have decided to quit the sport.TNP FILE PHOTO

4 shuttlers including Wong and Neo retire, rebuilding needed for 2017 SEA Games

The national badminton team have been hit by another spate of departures, the latest round involving both high-profile senior shuttlers as well as younger up-and-comers.

Doubles player Vanessa Neo is hanging up her racket after pursuing the sport full-time for 12 years, through two unsuccessful campaigns to qualify for the Olympics.

The 29-year-old, who is married to Olympian Derek Wong, was ranked among the world's top 10 mixed doubles pairs in 2013 with partner Danny Bawa Chrisnanta.

Wong, Singapore's top men's singles player, also called time on his badminton career after the recent Rio Games, his second straight Olympics. Currently ranked No. 56, the 27-year-old is also a Commonwealth Games silver medallist and has, for years, been the face of men's badminton in Singapore.

Among the younger players, 19-year-old Elaine Chua and 21-year-old Sean Lee have also left the fold. Both were part of the teams that won bronze medals at last year's SEA Games.

For Neo, the disappointment of narrowly missing out on qualifying for the Olympics for the second time signalled the end of the road.

She said: "I tried my best throughout the whole campaign. I can't see myself playing for another four more years. I'd be 33 by then and I don't think it's very realistic.

"I guess it's just not meant to be, it's not mine to have. Both Derek and I have reached the age where it's time to consider moving on, consider other options. I just have to move on, look forward to better things ahead."

Having joined the Singapore Sports Institute's high-performance set-up, Neo's future will continue to be in sport.

She is also pursuing a degree in sports and physical education with management at SIM University.

The national set-up has taken a considerable hit in recent years in terms of both quantity and quality.

With Wong and Neo's exits, this means no fewer than 14 senior players have left in recent years.

This includes former Olympians like Xing Aiying (injury) and Yao Lei (studies), while others like 2011 SEA Games champion Fu Mingtian have taken to coaching instead.

The Singapore Badminton Association did not respond to queries by press time last night.

Wong's retirement, in particular, will leave a void in the men's singles.

Loh Kean Yew, the next highest-ranked Singaporean man at No. 112 and a surprise bronze medallist at last year's SEA Games, is the obvious candidate to fill Wong's shoes.

But the 19-year-old faces an uncertain period ahead with national service beckoning.

Lee, who is currently undergoing national service, has not ruled out a return though.

He said: "I'm still passionate about badminton and the Olympics is still a dream. So I may return to the sport to give Tokyo 2020 a shot after I complete national service at the end of next year."

With the next SEA Games in Kuala Lumpur only a year away and regional neighbours doing well recently - Malaysia won three silvers at the Olympics while Indonesia bagged a gold - the SBA has little time to ready its players.

Said Neo: "There's one year to prepare for the SEA Games. They'll need to see who within the team now can step up to take our places."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 01, 2016, with the headline 'SBA faces string of exits'. Print Edition | Subscribe