PETALING JAYA (ASIA NEWS NETWORK/THE STAR) - After 19 years of glorious service for Malaysia, badminton icon Lee Chong Wei looks set to hang up his racket.
Malaysia's most successful badminton player - with 69 singles titles to his name - is calling for a press conference at the Youth and Sports Minister's office on Thursday, when it is believed he will announce his decision to step away from the sport, following a bout of nose cancer.
Lee, 36, has already met Malaysian Youth and Sports Minister Syed Saddiq Syed Abdul Rahman and Badminton Association of Malaysia president Norza Zakaria to get their blessings to allow him to take it easy to avoid a relapse of his cancer. They will both be present at the press conference scheduled for noon.
The minister confirmed meeting Lee but stopped short of revealing details. "We support and respect whatever decision Chong Wei makes. We will not forget his contributions to the nation," he said.
The three-time Olympic silver medallist was diagnosed with nose cancer in July last year. After treatment in Taiwan, he returned to training in January.
However, his irregular short training stints have tapered off and he has not been seen on any badminton court in the last six weeks.
Lee's retirement will come as little surprise, as he has not played competitively since July last year.
He initially wanted to return for the All-England in March and Malaysian Open in April, but both comeback attempts did not materialise.
Time is also running out for him to return to play in international competitions, as his one-year ranking protection will expire on Aug 14.
Without the privilege, Lee, now ranked No. 190 in the world, will not be eligible for the top-tier World Tour tournaments, which offer significant points for Olympic qualification.
He has made it clear from the start that the Tokyo Olympics next year was the only reason behind him deferring his retirement even after he was cleared of cancer in November.
Besides finishing runner-up at the last three Olympics in Beijing (2008), London (2012) and Rio de Janeiro (2016), Lee also fell at the final hurdle in three world championships outings in London (2011), Guangzhou (2013) and Jakarta (2015).