Steven Sim: Better to fire ministers than drop 144 athletes

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Former deputy youth and sports minister Steven Sim Chee Keong has expressed outrage over the dropping of 144 athletes from the national training programme, saying that political appointees and officials should be dropped instead.

He also blasted Youth and Sports Minister Ahmad Faizal Azumu for failing to defend the interests of the athletes concerned.

“It is better to fire 10 Ministers and 10 Deputy Ministers who have failed than to drop 144 athletes who have contributed to the country,” he said in a statement today.

Sim, who is the Bukit Mertajam MP, said on Nov 29, 2021, during the committee level debate for the 2022 Budget for the Ministry of Youth and Sports, he raised the issue of a lack of funds allocated for competitive sports.

“For example, for the provision of international sports, the ministry has only allocated RM17.5 million for 2022, while we will face three international sports events, namely the Hanoi SEA Games 2021, Hangzhou Asian Games 2022 and Birmingham Commonwealth Games 2022.

“Compare this allocation with the 2018 Budget where RM71.5 million has been allocated for the 2018 Gold Coast Commonwealth Games and the 2018 Jakarta Asian Games,” he said.

Sim said that with this sharp reduction, athletes and sports associations are not getting sufficient allocations to face the challenges of international sports this year.

He also chastised Ahmad Faizal saying that the latter had given empty promises in the Dewan Rakyat.

“When I raised the huge budget allocation gap, the Minister of Youth and Sports himself replied in the Dewan Rakyat that:

“We have already looked into this matter and the MSN and KBS have already committed that all the planning from our athletes and also the sports associations that will participate will not be ignored and ensure that they will be at the best level of performance to achieve the set targets.”

Sim said the minister had not told the truth considering that just a month after his assurance that the ministry would not ignore athletes, a total of 144 athletes were dropped from the national sports training programme.

“Some national athletes have complained that the ministry did not consult with them before deciding to terminate their service.

“This has treated our national athletes as if they were ‘disposable tools’ that can be removed at any time just like that,” he said.

Job security for athletes

The termination of 144 athletes under the National Sports Council (NSC) Training Programme came after Budget 2022 saw the sports sector only allocated RM244 million.

Former diving world champion Cheong Jun Hoong, who was dropped, promptly announced her retirement.

Cheong had bagged the 10m platform individual world title at the 2017 World Championships in Budapest and the 2016 platform synchro silver with Pandelela Rinong at the Rio Olympics.

Earlier, former world top 5 squash player Low Wee Wern reacted sadly to being dropped, saying “It definitely feels like I’ve been used and then tossed away.”

Low had recently undertaken knee surgery in a bid to recover for this year’s Asian Games and Commonwealth Games.

Athletes need job security

Sim said athletes should be assured of work and post-sports careers so that they can focus fully on achieving excellence in their respective sports.

“This was initiated during the Pakatan Harapan administration through the introduction of the Athlete Center which aims to be a one-stop centre for issues related to the rights, welfare, career, and education of athletes as well as the implementation of lifelong health protection services for national athletes,” he said.

“This is to create a healthier environment where athletes are not only respected and consulted in their sports careers but will also be better guided in terms of rights, welfare, as well as the future of post-sports careers.

“For me, it is better to fire 10 highly paid Ministers and 10 highly paid Deputy Ministers in a giant cabinet that failed to function than to drop athletes who have so long served the country without any lucrative reward.

“The salaries of the Ministers and Deputy Ministers are more than enough to accommodate our athletes in their sports training programmes,” added Sim. – Malaysiakini