PETALING JAYA: The exodus of former national gymnasts to Singapore for a better future as coaches is a painful reality check for Malaysia.
Over the last five years, nine national gymnasts Amy Kwan, Tracie Ang, Noor Hasleen Fatihin Hasnan, Jaime Lee Yoke Jeng, Azham Afzanizam, Chau Jern Rong, Mohd Hamzarudin Nordin, Khairul Rasul Hilmi and Tan Fu Jie have taken up lucrative offers from Singapore as club coaches.
Most of them are not ordinary athletes but who have won honours for the country at the Commonwealth and SEA Games level.
Rhythmic gymnast Amy for instance, made the country proud by winning a gold in the ribbon apparatus and a few other medals at the 2018 Gold Coast Commonwealth Games while artistic gymnast Tracie has won several gold medals at the SEA Games.
Jaime was one of the members of the team that included Chrystal Lim, Foong Seow Ting and Wan Siti Haniza Wan Izahar who won gold at the 2007 Korat SEA Games.
Jern Rong, Hamzarudin and Fu Jie have also contributed medals at the Southeast Asian region.
Poor salary packages and a lack of opportunities have seen many quality athletes jump ship and this trend only exposes domestic hardship and a lack of financial support at home for local coaches.
These former athletes are earning between S$3,000 and S$6,000 (RM10,430 and RM20,915) per month in Singapore while at home, it is learnt that a coach without experience will start with a salary package between RM2,800 and RM3,000 under the National Sports Council (NSC).
Malaysian Gymnastics Federation (MGF) deputy president Kau Git Kaur said that it was a sad reality faced by Malaysian athletes.
“Why are our athletes going abroad to become coaches? The answer is simple – they get better salary overseas,” said Git Kaur, a former international gymnast.
“Recently, we had the Asian Championships in Singapore this year. The sport’s president came and thanked me for sending our athletes as coaches there. Yes, I was proud that we have talents coaching abroad, but also embarrassed as we have a shortage of coaches right at home.
“I became a national coach after my gymnastics career was over in 1993, and I used to get RM2,000 and now, after 20 over years, the coaches who begin their career are paid about the same amount. No wonder our local talents are going away.
“It’s not only in gymnastics, but I see similar struggles in other sports.’’
Git Kaur said Malaysia should have encouraged their 1998 Jaya Programme gymnasts to invest in coaches.
“We had a good programme before the 1998 Kuala Lumpur Commonwealth Games. We had hired foreign coaches and we had structured training. We won a gold (rhythmic gymnastics) and produced good artistic gymnasts,” said Jit Kaur.
“Instead of continuing to rely on foreign coaches, we should have invested on the locals since the KL Games. Gymnasts like Olympian Au Li Yen, Lim Wai Chi would have made good coaches.’’
Git Kaur added that the huge disparity in salary between foreign and local coaches is also another drawback.
“Those days coaches from China came cheap, probably NSC had to pay US$1,500 but now, I don’t think they will settle for anything less than US$3,000 (RM14,250).
“We can hire a foreign coach with a higher pay but we give pittance for local coaches, and sometimes, for doing the same load of work.’’
Git Kaur is hoping for changes, not only in terms of the remuneration package but also in giving due respect to the local coaching breed.
“I strongly believe that we have to review our coaching salary package for our locals,” said Git Kaur.
“Our coaching certification programme also has to change.
‘‘Those who come through the coaching courses deserve to be paid more.
“Even a graduate gets more after completing their studies. We take in our athletes when they are young, promising much to their parents, but when their career is over, they can’t even earn a basic salary.
“Sometimes, those who retire are told to study again so that they can earn more. It’s too late for some when they are 26 or 27.
‘’If nothing is done to arrest the migration of former athletes to be coaches abroad, Git Kaur believes that the sport will eventually sink into oblivion.
“We should not waste athlete’s time. If we can’t pay them, then, we better don’t invest in the sport. We are just wasting everyone’s time,” he said.
On the role of the MGF, Git Kaur said they would continue to play their part to nurture local talents.
Currently, the Ng brothers Shu Wai and Shu Liang, former top artistic gymnasts, are proving to be coaches with credentials at the national level but the standard of coaching at the state level is quite low and a lack of quality coaches are still evident but the MGF are working on it.