Former cycling champion Rosli Abdul Kadir, 73, washes cars for a living. — File picture
THERE are many former national sportsmen and women who are disillusioned and the authorities need to speak to them.
I have been interviewing many former athletes for the column Icons from the past, which appears in the Malay Mail on Saturdays.
While some obliged me with an interview and revealed many unknown and interesting facts, others flatly refused to be interviewed.
No amount of persuasion worked.
They all said the same things: “What for? All is over. We are a forgotten lot. What has been done for us?”
It was a good chance for them to air their grouses, yet they apologised and declined the interviewed.
If these sportsmen and women, who are in their sixties and seventies, do not want to reminisce about their heyday, they must be really hurting.
So, what are they unhappy about?
Of course, comparing their condition then with that of the athletes today — so much more benefits, exposure, facilities, expertise and rewards — would be unfair.
Times have changed and the sports universe has gone professional.
So, what are they bitter about?
Many of them are happy present-day athletes are getting so many benefits. They are just sore that these athletes are unappreciative and do not give their best or show any passion.
These icons also hope with sports having been elevated to a professional level, the athletes of the past will not be forgotten.
Many of these sports luminaries are struggling to make ends meet. Some are even doing menial jobs.
It is hoped that today’s sportsmen and women will not suffer the same fate in their old age, although they get rewarded handsomely for victories now.
This is where the Ministry of Sports and National Sports Council (NSC) should seriously review their incentive payment scheme under which lump sums are paid for wins at the various levels of championships.
Commonwealth Games gold medallists will get RM80,000 each and one of the winners, weightlifter Mohd Hafifi Mansor, has said it is going to help him purchase a house for his family in Terengganu.
That is money well spent. But many athletes spend their reward unwisely and before they know it, have no savings.
I know many young athletes in their twenties who have quit sports after winning medals and being rewarded.
They all said they wanted to start a business but when it goes bust, are left either driving taxis or doing odd jobs.
Wouldn’t it be better for the NSC to pay only a portion of the rewards and place the rest in a retirement fund for athletes? Right now, only Olympic medallists receive a pension based on the colour of their medal.
The South Koreans have a better system under which points are awarded for different levels of achievement and tabulated, so that when the athletes retire, they have a lifelong pension based on the points accumulated.
Our past athletes only have Yakeb (Yayasan Kebajikan Atlet Kebangsaan/National Athletes’ Foundation), which was formed in 2007 with the main objective of managing the welfare of all national athletes, past and present.
The foundation was established to give recognition to all national athletes who have contributed and sacrificed to bring glory to the nation.
Its assistance in paying for medicine for its members is very much appreciated.
It also handles some of the funeral expenses (RM1,000), hospital admission (RM500),natural disaster (RM500), funeral expenses for the husband or wife of members (RM500), marriage (RM250), education expenses per semester (RM500 –RM1,500, depending on the course attended) and monthly payments for former athletes who are unemployed and above 65 (RM300 per month) and for physically challenged athletes (RM150 per month).
Surely, more can be done for our ex-athletes? For starters, maybe the government can give a token pension to those who are 60 and above while a proper pension scheme can be worked out for the present batch.
Tony Mariadass is a sports journalist with more than three decades of experience and is passionate about local sports. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Twitter handle: @tmariadass