13 April 17 The Straits Times by MAY CHEN
The Aug 19-30 SEA Games this year will miss many of the region's best badminton players, with many of South-east Asia's top shuttlers opting to compete at the world championships instead.
Indonesia's 2016 Olympic mixed doubles champions Tontowi Ahmad and Liliyana Natsir, who were knocked out of the ongoing OUE Singapore Open on Tuesday, told The Straits Times that they will be skipping the biennial Games in Kuala Lumpur.
Team-mates and world No. 8s Debby Susanto and Jordan Praveen, who lifted the 2015 SEA Games mixed doubles title, also said they are focused on the Aug 21-27 world championships instead of defending their SEA Games title.
The annual world championships, badminton's most prestigious event apart from the Olympics, take place in Glasgow this year.
Thailand's former world champion and world No. 7 Ratchanok Intanon has also said she is in favour of travelling to Scotland in the hopes of regaining a title she won as a teenager in 2013.
The former world No. 1 is the highest-ranked South-east Asian in women's singles, and competed in the Republic two years ago in the team event.
Thai men's singles player Tanongsak Saensomboonsuk has won a medal at every edition of the SEA Games since 2009, including a gold in Myanmar in 2013, but also hopes to compete at the world championships instead. Said the world No. 11: "I've already won a gold at the SEA Games. To me, the world championships are more important."
For Susanto, a deep national squad means the badminton powerhouse is able to send worthy shuttlers to both the SEA Games and world championships. She said: "There are many young junior pairs (on the national team) so (we will) give them a chance to take part."
Even on the Malaysia team, many shuttlers will likely give the first SEA Games held at home since 2001 a miss. For one thing, men's singles world No. 1 Lee Chong Wei, who has hinted at retiring this year, is almost a certainty for the world championships in order to make a final pursuit of a title that has eluded him throughout his illustrious career.
Other world-class pairs include Rio Olympics mixed doubles finalists Chan Peng Soon and Goh Liu Ying, as well as men's doubles duo Goh V Shem and Tan Wee Kiong.
Olympic Council of Malaysia secretary-general Low Beng Choo is unfazed about the list of absentees and in fact is supportive of Malaysian athletes competing in Glasgow instead should they qualify.
She told ST: "We knew about it (of the clash of dates) from Day 1. The world championships are world level and we should get our priorities right."
The Singapore team, meanwhile, is making the SEA Games their main focus this year.