Friday, February 27, 2009

Chong Wei takes on big role as Unicef ambassador

By RAJES PAUL

KUALA LUMPUR: World number one men singles shuttler Lee Chong Wei has been appointed as the National Goodwill Amba­ssador for United Nations Children Fund (Unicef) Malaysia.

And the Beijing Olympic Games silver medallist is determined to begin his duties as a role model for children with good performances in the back-to-back Super Series tournaments in Europe — the All-England and Swiss Open.

He leaves with the Malaysian team today for Birmingham. The All-England begin on Wednesday and the Swiss Open will be played in Basel from March 10-15.

The 27-year-old Chong Wei, who has yet to win the prestigious All-England title, said that he was honoured to represent Unicef Malaysia.

“I am truly honoured to leave tomorrow for the All-England as an Unicef ambassador. As a badminton player, I would like to bring good cheer to the children by doing well,” he said.

“I am determined to maintain a good image and be a good role model. Hopefully, I will be able to inspire many children along the way.”

And when he is free from preparing and playing in international tournaments this year, Chong Wei wants to be involved in helping children and supporting the Unicef programmes.

“It is one of my responsibilities as an international player to help those in need and to promote children programmes,” he said.

As one of Unicef’s sports personalities, Chong Wei joins the ranks with soccer greats David Beckham, Marcel Desailly and Francesco Totti; tennis champion Roger Federer and Ana Ivanovic; and cricket legend Ravi Shastri. On his chances in the All-England and Swiss Open, where Olympic champion Lin Dan of China is the heavy favourite, Chong Wei said that he was well prepared, both physically and mentally.

He is seen as a good bet to end Malaysia’s six-year drought of All-England men’s singles title since Mohd Hafiz Hashim emerged as the champion in 2003.

“I am more relaxed in my approach. I am the top seed in both the tournaments but I do not want to do the mistake by putting undue pressure on myself,” said Chong Wei.

“It will give me great joy if I can live up to my top billings in these two tournaments but I know that it will be easier said than done. I have challenging draws and tough battles ahead.”

In the All-England, he faces a tricky first-round encounter against China’s youngster Lu Yi. He has in his half of the draw the top three Indonesians — Taufik Hidayat, who is out to nail an elusive All-England title, Sony Dwi Kuncoro and Simon Santoso.

Also in the same half are Denmark’s Peter-Gade Christensen and Thailand’s Boonsak Ponsana.

Lin Dan and two compatriots Bao Chunlai and defending champion Chen Jin are in the other half of the draw.

In the Swiss Open, Chong Wei has a better route to the final. All the four Chinese players — Lin Dan, Chunlai, Chen Jin and Lu Yi — are not in his half of the draw.

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