November 25, 2016, by Tony Hong
Star Player’s Extramarital Affair yet Another Sign of the Failing Team
By Dr. Zhengxu Wang,
Contemporary Chinese Studies, University of Nottingham Ningbo China.
During the last two weeks, China’s social media has been dominated by the sex scandal of a star badminton player. Known as “probably the best badminton player ever”, the two-time Olympic men’s single champion, Lin Dan, was found in an extramarital affair with an actress.
On top of his numerous titles in leagues, tournaments, championships, and the Olympics, Lin Dan has never failed to produce headline stories through the years. He excelled as a player at a very young age, topping the world ranking table when he was barely 19. Entering the Athens Olympics (2004) as world No 1 and the most favoured, he stunned all by a defeat in the first round. The first Olympic gold had to wait for another four years, and he delivered a shattering victory over his long-time rival, the Malaysian superstar Lee Chung Wei at the Beijing event in 2008, the height of his career indeed. In between he managed to throw his racket trying to hit the opponent’s coach at a Korean tournament, having been beaten by the Korean player – the coach being a former Chinese national team player with an estranged relation with Lin’s own coach, the head coach of China’s national team Li Yongbo. After the Athens debacle he went into a period of purposelessness. He was reported to have engaged in a group fight against the national table tennis players, in which allegedly he was seriously beaten, almost resulting in fatal injuries.
From that low time he did re-emerge, and built himself up in various aspects as he moved to win the 2008 Olympics. Media savvy, he became an icon of the sport, and loved by big brands, sportswear, luxury goods, cooking oil, and everything else. What’s more, he appeared to be in a well cherished relationship with a sweet heart from his youth, the once women’s single world champion and Olympic silver medallist Xie Xinfang. His autobiography carries very intimate recollection and thoughts of her and the relationship, and its title, Toward the End of the World, was apparently a dedication to their relationship. They wedded in 2012 after Lin had achieved his second Olympic gold, and was known to be trying to have a baby. Everything seemed perfect, as his dominance in the sport continued albeit in a much less formidable way. Mid-year at Rio, he still reached the semi-finals, and appeared committed to make the next Olympics, in 2020, Tokyo. In November, Xie Xinfang gave birth to their first child.
It was at this juncture that his extramarital affair was exposed, and grabbed the attention of fans and the entertainment industry, with the involved being an actress. Reports emerged that this is not the only extramarital relationship he is having or has had, and one of the others involved a student, a player of her university team. He came out quickly on Weibo to apologize to his “family”, and on her part Xie came out on Weibo too, to forgive what she referred to as “this man that knows of responsibility”.
Gossiping and moral controversies, of course, continue in the media and social media. But to this long-time watcher of the game, Lin’s scandal represents the latest revelation of the failure of the National Badminton Team. This recent wave of its rise, having started around the late 1990s, arrived at its height at around 2008. It then went on to achieve the unachievable, winning all the five disciplines at the London Olympics in 2012. Yet since them it started to go downhill, falling into complete pieces at the Rio Olympics this year. At this time the problems amassed internally to the Team started to expose themselves, among them complicated romantic relationships among some of its top players. Disillusioned, players retired en mass, with the team losing half a dozen players in a short period of time, all world champions.
How the team got to this place will be the subject of another blog piece, but its head coach Li Yongbo, who has succeeded in making himself the emperor (or maybe dictator) of the sport has yet to stand out to claim responsibility. It might be that now his is a wrecked team. The once domineering Li is no longer able to contain any scandal that broke out of it, therefore the media can capitalize on them. But with the team in terrible shape and its players losing their focus and purpose, for a star player that has passed his prime, affairs might just become the haven in which he found meaning and excitement. What a pity.