Analysis: Will the backlash against Lee Chong Wei impact future brand collaborations?

Malaysian badminton icon Lee Chong Wei was recently criticised for sponsoring a programme to assist poor students at Bukit Mertajam, Penang (where he is from) which is represented by opposition Democratic Action Party (DAP).  According to multiple media reports, Lee sponsored 50 Samsung A8 tablets for children from B40 households. MP for Bukit Mertajam Steven Sim thanked Lee publicly in a Facebook post which contained a photo of him and Lee. Following which, the badminton icon was criticised by pro-establishment groups for supporting DAP and its constituents. Meanwhile, a Twitter account published an image which called for Lee's "Datuk" title to be revoked.

Following the incident, Sim apologised to Lee on Facebook for the criticisms he has faced. Sim said he was saddened to know that Lee was attacked for doing good and that his actions had nothing to do with politics. Instead, Lee sponsored the tablets because he wanted to help children in need. Sim also clarified that the tablets do not have stamps of DAP, only the manufacturer's logo. 

Lee retired in 2019, 19 years after he stormed into the scene and put Malaysia on the map with his badminton skills. 100PLUS expressed its gratitude to Lee back then, thanking its brand ambassador for all that he has done for Malaysia and called him "a hero and an inspiration" for all Malaysians. Among the list of brands Lee has worked with during his 19-year career include XOX Mobile, Parkson Group, KDU Education Group, GoodMorning Global, Maxis and UNICEF Malaysia. According to Lee's Facebook page, he is still working with Yonex and is also the ambassador for Ecoheal Global and MJ Health.

Lee has solidified his status in the sporting scene and despite the backlash he faced, Tanner Nagib, co-founder of Beatnk and strategic advisor of REBL, said the backlash will only make Lee even more favourable to the public because of his generous and thoughtful actions.

"What Lee should do is to continue showing his support for CSR causes and keep a neutral political stand. I would personally recommend doing more to circumnavigate the possible negativity; the country is in enough turmoil what with COVID-19 and economic challenges to attend to," he explained. Nagib said while It may look bad now, hiding from it will only amplify the negativity. Hence, he believes it is important to continue doing good and wishes more would take on Lee's approach and lend a helping hand.

Likewise, CEO of Fusionbrand Marcus Osborne said long after the dust settles and the keyboard warriors have moved on, the children who benefited from Lee's generosity will still talk about how he helped them in the pandemic of 2021. Despite having made a name for himself, Lee still remembers his humble background and what it was like to be poor, Osborne said.

He does not foresee any potential brand partnerships being impacted, since Lee is giving back to the community. However, Osborne said "it was perhaps a little naive and unnecessary" of Lee to let his generosity be publicised by a politician, unless Sim is a friend. This is because there is a significant overlap of politics and business in Malaysia. "If the politician is a friend, then what's the harm of helping a friend, especially when he is doing something to help poor children?" Osborne added.

Photo courtesy: Lee Chong Wei's Facebook page

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