Friday, May 27, 2016

Cheap publicity stunts


High jumper Nauraj Singh Randhawa is the flavour of the month but it is sad to see how he is being manipulated by some to promote themselves, their products or their companies.
Ever since Nauraj qualified for the Rio Olympics after his winning effort of 2.29m in the Singapore Open, he has not only been bombarded with interview requests from the media but also sought by companies looking to ride his current popularity.
There is nothing wrong in wanting to back an Olympic qualifier but the manner in which everyone is queuing up to exploit him is appalling.
Companies and sports councils offering Nauraj a meagre RM2,000 and having the news highlighted in the press is certainly a cheap shot at marketing themselves.
Nauraj should vet such invitations so that he is not taken advantage of but being new to the publicity circus, and being the ‘nice guy’ he is, he is probably obliging all of them.
Maybe the Malaysian Athletic Federation (MAF) should take the lead in guiding the athlete and not jump on the bandwagon.
Genuine support for Nauraj is welcome but it should be a contribution for the long term and not a one-off pittance, like the ones he has received so far.
There were even efforts to get Nauraj to endorse equipment for a small payment but he was wise enough to decline.
It is sad that many want to be associated with a sportsman when he makes the headlines but steer clear when genuine cases require assistance, especially in grassroots development.
But then again, there are responsible corporations that emphasise sports development and come forward every time their help is sought even by the smallest club in the most remote of places, and they do it without any publicity. These are corporations that hold sports close to their heart and whose corporate social responsibilities are clearly defined.
If there are organisations or individuals who wish to back Nauraj, for starters, they could help his father, Amarjit Singh, go to Rio de Janeiro to watch his son compete.
Amarjit has not only been a source of inspiration for Nauraj but has also supported him fully with whatever means he had.
The 56-year-old is currently unemployed and maybe assisting him in finding employment would be an act of kindness.
After all, it is through the efforts of his parents, Amarjit and Manjit, that Nauraj has been able to do his nation proud. They were there to advise him when he contemplated quitting the sport after suffering a serious ankle injury, which required reconstruction of his ligaments, in 2011.
Many athletes have been exploited in the past when they were in their prime or were up-and-coming. But once their form declined or they had served their purpose, they were dumped by their supporters like a hot potato.
Just look at how many of our former sportsmen and women who brought honours to the nation have been forgotten. In their old age, many of them are struggling to make ends meet while some of them are unemployed.
When double international (cycling and walking) Rosli Abdul Kadir’s plight – he was eking out a living washing cars – was highlighted two years ago, how much of assistance was he given? Unfortunately, Rosli died in a motorcycle accident early this week. 
Even when some of these icons start grassroots programmes to give back to their sport, they get little or no support.
The National Athletes Welfare Foundation (Yakeb) is in place but whether it is doing enough is debatable. It is pointless to make contributions after an athlete dies. 
Medical insurance is available but this was recently reduced from RM5,000 per year to RM2,500 and conditions were added under which repayment for medication will only be made if it is obtained from a hospital.
Many of our ex-athletes have expressed dissatisfaction at this state of affairs. Some do not even utilise the subsidy because they cannot purchase medicine from the pharmacies and medicine is expensive at the private hospitals. And at the general hospitals, the waiting time is just too long. Moreover, many of the athletes are old and some of them are immobile.
Giving a little bit of aid when a member is in hospital and having the news splashed all over the newspapers is certainly unnecessary when Yakeb's primary function is to look after the ex-athletes. More often than not, this kind of publicity is embarrassing to the athlete on the hospital bed and certainly cheap publicity for Yakeb.
Maybe, it is about time Yakeb working in collaboration with the National Sports Council should consider a pension scheme for ex-athletes?
Yakeb’s new chairman Datuk Malek Noor, a former national bodybuilder, probably can look into making this body more relevant.
When there is so much that can be done for our present and past athletes, it is sad that many pick and choose to whom and how much they want to contribute and in the process seek publicity at the expense of the athletes.
Let’s treat our athletes with respect and dignity.

TONY is a sports
journalist with more than
three decades of experience
and is passionate about
local sports.
He can be reached at
Twitter: @tmariadass​

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