Robbing ‘em blind
KUALA LUMPUR: THEY gave their all for the nation yet Malaysia's heroic paralympic athletes -- who had finished sixth out of 51 countries in last year's Asian Para Games in Guangzhou, China -- got the unkindest cut of all.
Instead of being treated as equals with the country's able-bodied athletes, they were subjected to a humiliating 70 per cent slash in cash incentives by the Youth and Sports Ministry.
Special athletes used to earn RM80,000 for a gold medal, RM40,000 for silver and RM20,000 for bronze at the regional Games.
They were unceremoniously trimmed to RM24,000 for gold, RM12,000 (silver) and RM6,000 (bronze).
The incentives were presented to them in April by Youth and Sports Minister Datuk Seri Ahmad Shabery Cheek through the ministry's funding arm, the National Sports Council (NSC), at an awards ceremony in Kuching, Sarawak.
Shabery was reported then as saying the amount was “reasonable at the moment".
However, the disabled athletes say the issue is not about the money.
Founder and president of the Malaysian Disabled Persons Sports Association, Lee Sheng Chew, said all they wanted was equal recognition for their efforts.
“We came from an era where there were no financial returns. We are happy to get some form of support from the government. We are in sports to boost our confidence and be at par with the rest.
“But when you’ve been getting one plate of rice and suddenly you only get two spoonfuls with no explanation, it’s quite disheartening. Aren’t we supposed to be treated equally?”
'Justice should be for everybody'
Having represented the nation numerous times, the 57-year-old blind athlete was among the medal-winners at the recent Games, having won a bronze in shot putt.
He said the athletes were disappointed at not being told beforehand about the slashed incentives.
“We were not consulted or told. It caught us by surprise. Tell us if their coffers are dry. Be transparent. We would like to know the truth.
“But the word on the street is that we are lower in standard and don’t deserve the money. It's sad."
He said he had highlighted their plight to several non-governmental organisations. He is also planning to write to the ministry.
Lee, who runs a massage parlor in Brickfields, hopes he and his teammates receive equal treatment.
“Justice should be for everybody.”
In the Games, Malaysia secured nine gold, 13 silver and 23 bronze medals. Swimmer Jamery Siga garnered the most rewards with RM48,000 after winning three silver and two bronze medals.
Complaints stream in at Paralympic Council over cash incentives
PETALING JAYA: DISABLED athletes are up in arms over the drastic cut in cash incentives they received in stark contrast to their able -bodied counterparts.
The Malaysian Paralympic Council (MPC) has received numerous complaints from disabled athletes about the reduction of prize money they received at a ceremony in Kuching on April 14.
MPC president Datuk Zainal Abu Zarin said the Asian Para Games athletes had voiced their grouses, saying it was unfair they received less than their ablebodied counterparts.
The special athletes had in the past received RM80,000 for a gold medal at the Asian Para Games but were given RM24,000 instead for a gold medal at last year’s Asian Para Games in Guangzhou, China.
“They have every right to voice out their grievances,” said Zainal.
He said they were not informed about the matter and only found out when the incentives were handed out by Youth and Sports Minister Datuk Seri Ahmad Shabery Cheek during the function in Kuching.
“We don’t understand the quantum of 30 per cent (of the money received compared with the able-bodied athletes). It goes to show that paralympians are only valued at 30 per cent.
“It’s disheartening as I believe our para athletes are worth much more.”
On claims by detractors that events competed by para athletes were less competitive compared with able-bodied athletes, Zainal said this was untrue.
“Paralympics is so competitive.
Even to be selected is not easy. It is not right to say that such games are not competitive.”
“If you justify yourself, people will listen. Our para athletes need to wake up and fight for their rights.”
Olympic Council of Malaysia (OCM) secretary Datuk Sieh Kok Chi, however, begged to differ.
“I’m sure the athletes didn’t go there for money,” Sieh said.
“I am not disrespecting our para athletes but I believe the reasoning is because the Games are not competitive.
"I sympathise with them. Even my daughter is special but it can’t be helped.”
NSC: Reward depends on budget
THE Youth and Sports Ministry is finding a winning formula to reward the country's para athletes at major events.
National Sports Council (NSC) Paralympic Department director Safrushahar Yusof said special athletes were given monetary rewards in the past on an ad-hoc basis.
“They will need to write in to us after returning from any major competition. The management board will decide on the quantum to give. It all depends on the budget of the ministry in that particular year,” said Safrushahar.
“Then the athletes will have to wait for about a year or so before receiving their rewards.”
However, this year, NSC initiated a new scheme to ensure special athletes receive the rewards after major events.
"This is in line with the proposal forwarded to the Cabinet Committee for Sports in 2009."
The Asian Para Games in Guangzhou, China was held last November and the para athletes received their incentives at a ceremony in Kuching on April 14.
Safrushahar maintained that NSC never used the term '30 per cent' and such a figure was never used to quantify the efforts by the para athletes.
“Yes, there is a difference inthe prize money for now but it will surely increase. Such incentives will also be handed to winners at the Paralympics and Asean Para Games. It is a fixed incentive which para athletes will receive from now on.
“We have compared our incentive structure with other countries including Australia, Singapore and Indonesia and our athletes are the highest paid.”
Safrushahar said para athlete sports were competitive and a raise in prize money was almost certain to justify the efforts by such athletes.