Red tape shouldn't get in the way of gold-medal breakthrough, demands sport's chief
Badminton officials want former world number one Zhou Mi to become a 'fully fledged' citizen as soon as possible as they believe next August's Beijing Games will present Hong Kong with its 'best-ever chance' to win a first Olympic medal in the sport.
'We want to be in a position to be able to pick our best squad for Beijing. At the moment we have three girls who are in the world's top 16. But one of them, Zhou Mi, is not eligible for selection because she has to wait seven years to get a local passport,' said Tong Wai-lun, chairman of the Hong Kong Badminton Association.
The International Olympic Council's charter says athletes need to hold the passport of the country they represent.
Zhou (pictured) arrived from the mainland in January under the 'quality migrant admission scheme'. A bronze medallist at the 2004 Olympics in Athens, Zhou left China after she was dropped by the national squad due to a nagging knee injury.
But after rehabilitation Zhou, 28, is in Hong Kong colours, and is rediscovering the form which once saw her on top of the world. She is 13th in singles rankings and hopes to rise higher before the cut-off date - April 30, 2008 - for Olympic qualification.
Tong, who is also a vice-president of the World Badminton Federation, said: 'The government should reconsider this scheme and allow people who come under it to get a passport quicker.'
Hong Kong' has two other players - Wang Chen, who is ranked sixth, and Yip Pui-yin, ninth - in with a chance of qualifying automatically if they remain in the world's top 16. But with each national Olympic committee only allowed to be represented by two players in the singles events, it will be a battle between the three if Zhou is eligible.
'That choice is up to our head coach, Chan Chi-choi, who will have to decide which two players will give Hong Kong the best chance of winning a medal,' says Tong. 'Our concern is that Zhou should be available for selection. At the moment she is not because she doesn't have a passport.'
Tong said that although Zhou came under the new migration scheme set up to attract talented people, she was still treated like any other new resident and had to wait seven years to get an SAR passport.
'Next year we have our best-ever chance of winning an Olympic medal for the first time in badminton. I want our coach to be able to consider her, too. I don't want to wait seven years, she will be too old then,' Tong said.
Zhou, Wang and Yip will all get their chance to further their rankings in the Yonex-Sunrise Hong Kong Open in two weeks.
The US$250,000 Super Series event has attracted 240 of the world's leading players from 23 countries. China will send their world number ones - Lin Dan and Xie Xingfang - while Indonesia will be spearheaded by men's Olympic gold medallist Taufik Hidayat.
'This is the 12th and last Super Series event of the year and it is more important as it offers more points which go towards Olympic qualification. That is why all the countries are sending their best players. The world's top 10 men and women will all be here,' said Hong Kong coach Chan. 'I'm confident Hong Kong will be represented at the Olympics in the men's and women's singles, but we are also chasing berths in the men's doubles and women's doubles.'
The Hong Kong Open, from November 27-December 2, will follow the China Open to be played the week before in Guangzhou. Both are six-star events, offering the biggest prize money and the most Olympic qualification points.
'Of course my aim is to qualify for the Beijing Olympics,' said Zhou in an earlier interview. But she consistently has refused to comment on her eligibility status.
'That is up to our association, the Hong Kong Olympic Committee and the government to decide,' Chan said on her behalf yesterday.
No average Zhou
The world ranking of Zhou Mi, who requires an SAR passport to compete in the Beijing Olympic Games: 13