Friday, June 10, 2016

Treat young athletes with dignity, please


It is embarrassing that the cream of our young athletes had to compete with minimum sports attire and equipment at the 17th Asian Junior athletics championship that ended in Ho Chi Minh City on Monday.
That the contingent of 24 athletes, five coaches and one team manager had to travel without an official bag, tracksuit and jogging shoes is indeed sad.
Indeed, the Malaysian athletes wore their own outfits at the prize presentation for the winners.
They had been given just one running vest with the word “Malaysia" printed on the back and a pair of shorts and two round-neck T-shirts without any wordings for the duration of the trip from June 1 to 7.
Whatever reason the Malaysian Athletics Federation (MAF) come up with for this poor state of affairs – even if their sponsor Mizuno could not supply them with the official attire in time – is unacceptable.
MAF should have been better prepared for such a prestigious and premier junior athletic event in which 18 countries competed.
Granted, the association is trying to stand on its own two feet unlike many of the others, which rely heavily on the National Sports Council (NSC), but at least the athletes are well attired whenever they travel with NSC’s support.
To see our athletes at the youth event in all kinds of colour did not put Malaysia in good light.
Just three weeks ago, in this column, I had said athletics was beginning to shine again with many budding athletes on the rise, whose future looked bright.
I had also said that the athletes had to be well looked after, guided and given the best coaching opportunities and exposure.
To send a contingent to an Asian-level meet poorly attired certainly does not give such an impression and does not do much for their image.
If these athletes get disillusioned at an early age, the future of athletics may be in danger.
I do not advocate spoiling the athletes but they must be treated with respect and dignity.
MAF had given each athlete an allowance of RM180 for the seven-day event, which works out to about RM25 per day.
Again, I do not advocate splashing money on the athletes but surely they could have been given a more decent allowance? Twenty-five ringgit is about US$6 and in a country where US dollars are commonly used, the amount would not have taken the athletes very far.
They could not have bought their peers from other countries a decent meal or drink, or purchased souvenirs for their loved ones with a princely US$6!
I just hope some of the athletes did not resort to selling their vest or T-shirts to souvenir hunters for extra cash!
Yes, the athletes were provided with accommodation and all their meals but they could have still been given something like RM50 a day.
Athletes for the Malaysia Games (Sukma) probably get more.
Maybe MAF are cash-strapped and that was all they could afford. If that was the case, the association had better start working on raising funds through sponsorships or donations.
I know MAF are trying to get things right but it must be a concerted effort by the whole council, not just a few individuals in the council. If anyone wants to serve on the council, they must be prepared to work hard to raise money for the association and take care of the athletes. Otherwise, they should do the honourable thing and step down; make way for those who are genuinely interested in the sport and want to contribute.
Indeed, athletics is the poor cousin of football.
When they travel, the national footballers – be they seniors or juniors – do it in style. They wear suits and are given a suitcase of attire and equipment, not to mention handsome allowances and bonuses.
No wonder many youngsters prefer to play football rather than take up athletics.
Meanwhile, our young athletes did Malaysia proud at the recent event, winning three gold medals, three silvers and a bronze out of the 44 at stake. They finished fourth on the table while Japan finished at the top with 13-10-4, China in second place (11-7-4) and India in third place (7-4-6).
Without doubt, Malaysia has a crop of young people who have the potential to raise the athletics profile of the country. So, MAF had better look at ways to keep them happy or it stands to lose a few of them to other sports.
There is no need to pamper the athletes but give them the necessities.
I wonder if MAF assist athletes in securing running spikes through sponsorship or they have to fend for themselves.
Once an athlete makes a name for himself, he will have no problem in getting sponsors. But in the early days, when they are struggling with expenses, they should be given all the assistance they need.
Let’s give our young athletes the respect they deserve and, hopefully, they will reward the country with respectable performances.

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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