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A different kind of gold rush

 | August 4, 2012

Are our athletes today competing with the objective of hitting the bull's eye to earn a handsome reward?

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Malaysia’s top single’s shuttler Lee Chong Wei is under tremendous pressure to bring home the country’s first Olympic gold medal. In the 2008 Olympics in Beijing, he secured a silver medal and hope against hope is that he will eventually strike gold.

Lee previously held the world No 1 title for four years until archrival Lin Dan over took him this year. Once again there is trepidation come the Lee-Lin Dan face off – and it is understandable, for all eyes are on Lee, who is expected to make the country proud by emerging victorious.

What, however, is not welcomed is the manner in which our athletes are “programmed” to win, not for the nation but for the government of the day.

In this regard, the athletes are promised a “reward” if they snatch the gold, making the entire process of competing one of “expecting something in return”, putting an end to the era when athletes competed to bring pride and glory to the country; were they then “rewarded”, it was something of a bonus for them.

These days it is all about “deliver and get rewarded”. The spirit of sportsmanship has been marred by the practice of enticing the atheletes with monetary or other material attractions.

In the ongoing London 2012 Olympics, 30 Malaysian athletes are vying in nine sports including badminton, archery and diving. And the agenda is all about winning the gold, a feat which Malaysia has yet to achieve at the Olympics, the world’s biggest sports arena.

So much so that a local sponsor, KL Racket Club, has come up with a tagline “Gold for Gold” to prompt Malaysian athletes competing at the Olympics to bring home the country’s first Olympic gold medal.

In return for the gold medal won, the atheletes responsible are promised a 12-kg gold bar worth over US$600,000.

Andrew Kam, founder of the KL Racket Club, was quoted as saying: “Come back with a gold medal, and you will have a gold bar waiting for you!”

The dangle-a-carrot era

If in the past athletes had only one aim in mind, that is, to honour their motherland each time they competed in prestigious sports events, the scenario has changed, with athletes today competing with the objective of hitting the bull’s eye to earn a handsome reward.

Being lucratively rewarded is not a problem; what is worrying is the manner in which these sports people are being “corrupted” to win, the enticements coming in the form of a “datukship” title, money, allowances or land.

As Razif Sidek, the 1992 Olympics bronze medallist, had put it: “During my time, there was not much reward; these are very good incentives for athletes and badminton players. Hopefully, these good incentives will make these players perform better. I hope they can really concentrate on their games rather than thinking about the reward.”

Whatever happened to the spirit of playing for the sake of the game, for the love of it? Does it no longer count?

The unhealthy politics that has now made its way into the country’s sports scene will exert a heavy price, with the victims being none other than the athletes themselves.

Play for the love of sports

Should the scenario of “win and get rewarded” continues, there will come a time when Malaysia will have none or perhaps fewer than a handful of athletes who can be depended on to make the country proud, because they play not for the reward but for the love of sports.

Of the handful who consistently make the nation proud is squash queen Nicol David, who has held the World No 1 title for six consecutive years, making her the most successful woman player in the history of the game and the first Asian woman to accomplish this triumph.

Each time the 28-year-old Nicol takes to the squash court, it is palpable that she wants to do her best because she enjoys playing a good game, not because a condominium or some cheque is awaiting her as the “reward”.

And who is to be blamed for such state-of-affairs when atheletes expect “remuneration” for their glowing performance?

Also, is the glory achieved aimed at making the country proud or is the motive to fulfil the agendas of the respective sports bodies struggling hard to make an impression?

Don’t bribe athletes

“Bribing” athletes has become a way of life in this country and the 2012 Olympics games is the latest casualty, no thanks to the federal government which has promised athletes who bring home a gold medal US$300,000 in cash.

The half-a-million dollar seduction aside, all medallists have been guaranteed a monthly allowance for as long as they live.

Yes, it pays to do the country proud but why must the “reward” be heralded much earlier on, psychologically disturbing the athletes, who then hope to win for the sake of rewards.

Prime Minister Najib Tun Razak could have exercised discretion and surprised the medallists when they returned home instead of luring them with monetary rewards way ahead of the mission.

But then graft has become the government’s “best friend” when it comes to fulfilling its targets. That explains why national laureate A Samad Said wants the Najib to be taken to task by the Election Commission for indulging in bribery.

Samad, who is also co-chairperson of electoral watchdog Bersih, recently hit out at Najib, saying the premier has started campaigning before Parliament when he urged the Selangor voters to “choose the right government” to resolve the state’s water issue and by his July 25 announcement that the ruling Barisan Nasional government would be paying a half-month bonus with a minimum RM500 payout to all civil servants for the coming Hari Raya Aidilfitri celebration.

If bribing the rakyat and the atheletes is the only way the BN government can depend on in getting what it wants, why the shame then when the country’s corruption ranking keeps dipping?

At the end of the day, while it pays to do the country proud, let the rewards not blur the atheletes’ focus on why they are competing – is it to celebrate their nation or to inflate their bank accounts?

Jeswan Kaur is a freelance writer and a FMT columnist.


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