Lee Chong Wei, tourism ambassador – for Sabah?

The appointment just does not fit, Jem writes

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Lee Chong Wei - Photograph: Wikipedia

Many Sabahans must have been shocked upon learning that retired badminton star Lee Chong Wei, born and bred in Penang, had been appointed as the tourism ambassador for Sabah!

What an insult to Sabahans. What is the relevance between an ex-badminton player from West Malaysia becoming an ambassador of tourism for Sabah? The two roles are as different as chalk and cheese. No wonder many Sabahans are appalled at this appointment. The appointment just does not fit.

But Tourism Association of Sabah chairman Tony Chew actually thinks it is a great idea. He said Lee, as a globally accomplished athlete and Malaysian, could promote Sabah in his own unique way.  

Seriously? What would be his own unique way? Maybe Chew could elaborate. As the chairman of the state tourism association, he should have been more partial to Sabahans taking up this position.

The state had previously used Sabah-born golfer Ben Leong and Taiwan-based Kota Belud-born singer Gary Chaw to promote tourism. 

So did tourism pick up after these two men came into the picture? Did more golfers come to play in Sabah? Did Gary Chaw bring in more Chinese from China? Did these two men not promote Sabah “in their own unique way” too?

Meanwhile, Sabah Tourism, Culture and Environment Minister Jafry Arifin said, Lee was chosen for the role because of his global reputation through his remarkable performances in the international arena, winning trophies and fans around the world, especially in Asean, China, Japan, South Korea, Denmark and the UK.

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For goodness sake, Lee was just a badminton player. Yes, he had won trophies, but that does not qualify him to become a tourism ambassador for a state he knows little about.

Does Jafry think that because Lee had fans in all these countries, they will be trooping in droves to visit Sabah, especially when these countries are still battling the pandemic? The state government and tourism association should be more realistic and mindful in their long-term views of the tourism industry for the country and should not insult the intelligence of its own people.

On accepting the role, Lee said, “I am very happy. I know Sabah is very famous. I always go to competitions in China, Taiwan and everybody knows Sabah. Sabah is a very big state.”

Is this all he knows about Sabah – it is famous and is a big state!

He added he was going to bring his family and visit more places and with that he “can share more details as well as help promote tourism in Sabah”.

So, is he will learn on the job? Since he is only now going to learn more about Sabah, when does he actually start becoming the ambassador? It is baffling that he could accept the position, especially when he knows little about the state.

Lee visited Sabah in 2008 (13 years ago!) where he won the World Super Series Masters title. Did he have much time to explore the state then?

So how did the Tourism Association of Sabah choose someone who has such limited knowledge of the state he is going to represent? What other criteria did he have that stood out for him to be chosen, other than being a badminton player? Since Lee was born in Penang, why didn’t the tourism industry in Penang pick him as their tourism envoy?

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Sabah Tourism Board head Noredah Othman said she believes Lee’s position as a respected social and global influencer would help create curiosity, especially among those from China.

What piqued my curiosity on reading this paragraph was Lee being known as a respected social and global influencer. Which means what exactly? In the sport of badminton? Maybe. Global influence? What did he do to gain global influence? Again, maybe only in badminton.

So shouldn’t he be the ambassador of the sport that he was so much a part of? Why hasn’t the Badminton Association of Malaysia thought of making him their ambassador? It would be common sense, wouldn’t it?

Sabah does not need any ambassador to speak for it. She is renowned throughout the world as there have been many documentaries made about the beauty of Sabah, on land and at sea. Ask the legendary English actress Judi Dench. She would know, as she was in a documentary about Sabah wildlife. Tourists know about Sepilok and the amazing orangutans. Speak to well-known divers and they will tell you about the waters of Sipadan, home to spectacular coral reefs and large fish. And who doesn’t know Mount Kinabalu? Who doesn’t know about the beauty of our beaches and the mind-boggling colours of the sky at sunset at beach in Tanjung Aru?

Many Sabahans are going to wait and see how many tourists will flock into the state soon based on the global reach of the new tourism ambassador of Sabah.

One can only hope that the Sabah government and the tourism association, in wanting to get some quick publicity for the Sabah tourism industry, have not made a huge blunder.

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Jem, an Aliran reader, still cares deeply about Sabah, despite having lived in the peninsula for some time

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