Treat sports people with more dignity

Success isn’t given. It’s earned on the field, on the track, in the gym. With blood, sweat and the occasional tear.

— Nike inspirational quote

If you were to ask me why Malaysia has yet to win the Olympic gold or if we could win one in Paris 2024, this would be my answer today.

Malaysia does not deserve to win anything in any sporting event at the international level, not after the Sports Ministry has treated some of our top athletes with so little respect and dignity.

Olympic gold medal — dream on, jaguh kampung Malaysia! Unless and until we get down to treat our sports people right, don’t expect any medal.

If I were a Malaysian athlete today, I would not be in the right frame of mind to go all out for a medal of any colour in any competition. How could I when I know that there is not much of a future for me in sports in this country?

This would be my honest response in my current state of disgruntlement with the government for the way they push some of our sportsmen and sportswomen around.

I’m hardly interested in seeing Malaysia win anything at all for now. What I want to see is that we put our own house in order first — look after our sportsmen and sportswomen well, even at their worst of times.

When they persevere through the years and sacrifice so much to give their best to the nation, let us take care of all of them — the best we can because they deserve it. In recent days, we have heard a lot about the current state of affairs within the sports fraternity. Unfortunately, all were bad news.

First, there was this announcement that 144 national athletes, including those who have made history for Malaysia in highest level competitions, have been cut off by the National Sports Council (NSC) due to lack of funding.

The Podium Programme — a full-time training programme introduced by NSC to groom Malaysia’s national athletes — was not given an allocation in Budget 2022.

The sports industry was only allocated a total of RM289 million in the annual budget. This is close to a 70 per cent reduction from the previous year.

As a result, Youth and Sports Minister Datuk Seri Ahmad Faizal Azumu announced in December that the NSC has decided to reduce its number of full-time athletes from 432 to 288 in 2022.

Those of us who keep track of the local sports scene were taken aback and very shocked with all the sad stories from our sports people emerging out of this budget cut.

As a keen sports follower, this episode of disrespect for our athletes is one which I don’t think I can easily forget.

Listen to this: “I cannot provide for my family with an allowance of only RM800 and it would be better to work in McDonald’s,” retorted a dejected national hurdler Rayzam Shah Wan Sofian.

RM800 is what those who have been retained in the training programme are getting now. Seriously, an allowance of only RM800! A cow would even reject it because it knows all about respect. Those in the sports ministry do not!

Meanwhile, national hammer throwers Grace Wong Xiu Mei and Jackie Wong Siew Cheer are also upset that their RM2,000 allowance and contract period were cut.

The pair, who won gold medals in the 2017 Sea Games and silver in the 2019 Sea Games, felt disrespected.

Speaking to Malaysiakini, Wong said he is worth more than RM800.

“The reason we chose to be an athlete is not for money but to contribute to the nation — and RM800 does not match with what we have accomplished.

For Grace Wong, the latest development is nothing short of demoralising.

“When our allowance was RM2,000, it was not much but we still had to train every day. The allowance is now RM800 but we are still required to win medals. This is unfair to us,” she said.

Now, hear this one — this is utter disrespect at its worst. Three months after her knee surgery, squash player Low Wee Wern got the boot.

The national No. 5 squash player fumed that she might have opted not to undergo surgery for a knee injury if she had been informed earlier that the NSC would not renew her training programme contract.

After receiving backlash for two weeks, the NSC explained its decision and apologised to Low.

A case of too little too late!

Among the other prominent names also dropped were former diving world champion Cheong Jun Hoong and sprinter Zaidatul Husniah Zulkifli.

Many of us will feel for our sports people. They have my empathy and I would like to speak up for them.

Malaysians know that the NSC’s decision has robbed the nation of potential gold medals as athletes who might shine in the future have lost their chance to do so.

This is about national pride but we are about to lose it all because our ministers and political leaders do not know how to take care of our sports people and treat them right.

The views expressed here are those of the columnist and do not necessarily represent the views of New Sarawak Tribune.

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