Ex-rhythmic gymnasts urge victims of abuse to speak up

They’ve got rhythm: (from left) Durratun Nashihin Rosli, Lee Wan Nin, Amy Kwan Dict Weng and Sarina Sundara Rajah.

PETALING JAYA: Whether one experiences physical or verbal abuse, he or she should not suffer in silence.

There should be an avenue for athletes to deal with the issues without them being victimised.

At least, that’s what former rhythmic gymnasts Sarina Sundara Rajah, Durratun Nashihin Rosli, Lee Wan Nin and Amy Kwan Dict Weng hope to see although all of them have gone through different experiences in the national set-up during their glory days.

In the United States, Australia and recently in New Zealand, several gymnasts have come out to speak about verbal, physical and sexual abuses. In Malaysia though, many prefer to keep their struggles to themselves for fear of being picked on.

The 28-year-old Sarina, a member of the 1998 Commonwealth Games gold-medal winning team, who has had her share of painful experiences in the past, said sports should be safe for the athletes.

“I remember a particular incident quite well. I was 14. It was at a motivational camp. We were involved in one group activity and one of the officers made an obscene gesture, ” said Sarina.

“I knew it was wrong but I did not how to react or what to do. I let it pass. Now, if I was in the same situation, I would have reported it.

“During training too, some of us had to endure demeaning words from our coaches. Usually, the gymnasts are ridiculed with words as fat, on the heavy side, you don’t look good.

“As coaches are in control, athletes had to put up with all the verbal abuses, as they do not want to be dropped by NSC (National Sports Council) or other authorities.

“All these leave long-term effects on the athletes if they do not have the right channel to deal with it. I’m all for safe sport.”

In fact, Sarina has done her part too to help athletes speak up when their safety is violated.

She has even created a SafeTouch application called WoMan4.0 to create awareness on safe sports and she has also introduced a safe sport policy in her own rhythmic gymnastics club so that her coaches will know their roles well.

“These abuses are not only experienced by girls as boys go through the same too. And it’s not only in gymnastics, it’s there in other sports too. I believe it’s my duty as a former athlete to create the awareness.

“None of our athletes should suffer any form of abuse on their own.”

Durratun, 31, said one should consider several factors before even determining whether it was abuse.

“My era is different from now. I was able to accept it when I was criticised. I did not take it as an abuse but I took it as a way of disciplining, ” said Durratun, who won four silver medals at the 2004 Melbourne Commonwealth Games.

“I remember those days when I was called fat by my coach and was asked to run before training. I was the only one subjected to it and it was hurtful but I knew it was for my own good.

“I took it positively but of course, I’m thankful that my mother was there to support me through the ordeal and I’ve always returned to training with a stronger resolve.

“There is a difference between elite and recreational training too. The intensity and pressure of training is different at the elite level, thus the tendency for the coaches to push their athletes, ” added Durratun, who coaches juniors in a club now.

Lee Wan Nin, who came close to making it to the 2012 Olympic Games before a knee injury ruled her out, admitted that she was lucky as she had Datuk Marina Chin, the Bukit Jalil Sports School principal then, and team manager Petrina Low to depend on to deal with harsh treatment of her coach.

“It’s hard to define abuse. It could be construed differently by athletes. For me, I know that I was treated unpleasantly during training and it affected me, ” said the 25-year-old Wan Nin.

“Thankfully, I could share it with Datuk Marina and Petrina. They could not help change the situation in training but at least, I had a place to talk about it.

“I hope there will be a platform for athletes to go to if they are suffering, ” she added.

Unlike all before her, the 25-year-old Amy Kwan Dict Weng said she did not experience any form of abuse in training but understood the struggles others had gone through.

“If anyone is struggling, they can approach their psychologist or doctor. Just call out for help, ” said the 2018 Gold Coast Commonwealth Games gold medal winner Amy, who retired from the national team last month.

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