Is getting into sports worth it?

It definitely feels like I’ve been used and then tossed away.

— Low Wee Wern, national squash player

LATELY, Malaysian sports has been in the limelight. No, don’t get me wrong; we are not getting attention because we are winning medals after medals or one championship after another.

On the contrary, we are making news for the wrong reasons.

We’ll come to this later. Before that, let me congratulate our state’s 22 swimmers who returned with 28 medals from the recent national GRP Milo Age Level Swimming Championship in Bukit Jalil, Kuala Lumpur.

The young swimmers’ haul of 13 gold, nine silver and six bronze medals — which placed them in second spot after Kuala Lumpur’s Ikan Bilis Swimming Club which won 39 medals (17-10-12) — is commendable, considering that it was their first outing since the COVID-19 lockdown.

In the words of coach Raymond Chang, and I quote: “This was the very first competition for our swimmers since the lockdown in 2020. The overall second placing was totally unexpected. It’s a good start.”

Yeah, an awesome start I would say. The swimmers are now motivated to train harder for the upcoming SUKMA Games.

Nevertheless, we should not rest on our laurels. Chang has warned that Sarawak should start producing more competitive swimmers for national and international competitions to replenish the diminishing pool of qualified athletes.

Otherwise, we won’t have any more swimmers good enough to represent us in the near future.

The same goes for other sports! Sarawak officials should act fast and not wait for crises to set in before taking action.

Talking about our para athletes, they appear to be performing better than our normal athletes — especially internationally.

Anyway, gone are the days when the state used to produce athletes of national and international repute. I am not sure how many of us remember these stars.

Anyone still recall names like Bala Ditta @ Kuda Ditta, Wiliam Yeo, Solomon Esmanto, Bujang Taha, Balang Lasung or Terence Janting? Or James Yakub, Gladys Chai, Lau Kiew Ee, Jahar Nor, Joseph Lee, Salleh Wahab, Latif Olen and Ong Poh Lim? And we had national sprinter Watson Nyambek and hurdler Hassan Ayub.

Now, let me come to the topic which I mentioned at the start of my column.

I am not sure what’s up with some of our political leaders — and sports officials!

First, Putrajaya slashed the annual budget for the sports sector this year by 70 per cent to RM289 million compared to 2021.

This forced the National Sports Council (NSC) to slash its number of full-time athletes from 432 to 288 under its training programme to groom national athletes.

The decision left 144 national athletes in the lurch. A few top athletes were axed from their full-time contracts, and without warning.

Imagine yourself in their shoes! Having given your time and total concentration, and sacrificing family life to bring a name for your country, and all of a sudden, without even the courtesy of sitting down and discussing the issue, you find yourself dropped unceremoniously!

They will no longer receive allowances or accommodation; neither will they be allowed to use facilities at the National Sports Institute.

A shocked national squash player and former world No. 5, Low Wee Wern, couldn’t contain her disappointment when she said: “It definitely feels like I’ve been used and then tossed away.

“I have given up so much for the country and made so many sacrifices throughout the years. And it’s just really frustrating the way the NSC have done things as they didn’t even have the decency to sit down and have a discussion with me about it.

“I just feel disrespected after everything I’ve done.”

It’s about time Prime Minister Datuk Seri Ismail Sabri Yaakob stepped in to rectify the situation before Malaysia becomes a sports decadent nation! And there are talks that some elite athletes want to leave and play for other countries.

Then the second shocker. The Badminton Association of Malaysia (BAM) has put the brakes on Lee Zii Jia, heir-apparent to Datuk Lee Chong Wei, as punishment for abandoning the national team to go independent.

He was banned from Badminton World Federation-sanctioned tournaments for two years which would effectively end his career.

Lee is Malaysia’s best hope of winning our first ever Olympic gold. But the BAM decision might have put paid to our hopes.

The badminton world has slammed BAM for its decision. Dane world No. 1 Viktor Axelsen tweeted that “it’s his career and his life after all”.

Personally, I see nothing wrong if one wants to follow one’s own path, choose one’s own coaches or sponsorship deals to sustain one’s success as a professional player.

The prime minister should step in and reverse the ban.

Silly decisions like the lack of funding to sustain top athletes and the ban will discourage youth from excelling in sports.

I pray our sports officials and the country’s leaders will come to their senses.

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