PETALING JAYA: The government's decision to give monthly pensions to Olympic Games medallists was lauded by the national athletes. But there is a plea to extend the scheme to non-Olympic sports.
Yesterday, top woman bowler Shalin Zulkilfi said that she hopes athletes from the non-Olympic sports would not be left out.
On Thursday, after the Cabinet Committee on Sports Development meeting, Deputy Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak announced that Olympic Games medallists - gold, silver and bronze – would be given a monthly allowance of RM3,000, RM1,500, RM1,000 respectively for life.
The 27-year-old Shalin hopes that the government will consider all the athletes for the pension scheme.
“It is great that the government is giving out pensions for athletes. This is what I have been advocating for a long time,” said Shalin, who has been bowling for the country for more than a decade.
“But unfortunately, this is only for athletes who win medals at the Olympic Games. What about the other sports that are not in the Olympics programme? I am not only talking on behalf of bowling. There are other sports like squash, wushu and silat, which have athletes capable of winning honours at their highest level of competitions like the World Championships.”
The non-Olympic sports athletes have also kept the Malaysian flag high in the world tournaments.
Wushu exponent Ho Ro Bin won the nandao gold in the 1999 world championships; Nicol David reached the semi-finals of the world championships in 2003 and 2004; the women’s bowling team won a gold medal at the 2003 world championships; and Mastura Sapuan bagged a gold in the 70kg category in last year's world pencak silat meet.
Currently, only badminton, which has a realistic chance of winning medals at the Olympic Games, is expected to enjoy the pension scheme. Five past Olympic medallists - Razif and Jalani Sidek (1992 Barcelona men's doubles bronze medal), Cheah Soon Kit-Yap Kim Hock (1996 Atlanta Games men's doubles silver medal) and Rashid Sidek (1996 Atlanta Games men's singles bronze medallist) - will start receiving their allowances from January next year.
“I am happy for all the athletes, who will benefit from this scheme. But I feel sad too. It is not fair for all the other athletes. In fact, some of the sports, which are already in the Olympics programme, do not even have the chance of winning medals,” she said.
“Hopefully, the government will consider including other prestigious tournaments under the pension programme.
“In South Korea, bowlers can even look forward to receiving monthly pensions if they win a gold medal at the Asian Games. For the non-Olympic sports, the government can look at either the World Championships or the Asian Games.
“I heard that the government is going to look at the non-Olympic sports and I truly hope that they will review it and be fair to all the athletes. This will certainly motivate all the athletes to strive for excellence at the highest level.”
Shalin, who is determined to win her first ever gold medal in the World Cham_pionships for women in Denmark in August, hopes to convey her message to Youth and Sports Minister Datuk Azalina Othman Said, who mooted the pension scheme.
“I was not around during the last two meetings that our Sports Minister had with the national athletes.
“The athletes sacrifice a lot to win honours for the country and I hope our pleas will be considered.”
She was happy that the government had approved a whopping RM193mil for sports, with the bulk of it being channelled for development.
Bowling is one of the eight core sports that will get the most attention. The others are football, squash, aquatics , hockey, gymnastics, badminton and athletics.
Shalin, a five-time national champion, hopes that the fund allocated would not be misused.
“A lot of money will be involved and a lot of people will want to be part of it. I just hope the money will not go to waste,” she added.
Out of the RM193mil budget, RM125mil is for the “sports for the masses”, RM30mil for development and RM38mil for high performers. An additional RM1mil will be utilised to set up the Athletes' Welfare Fund.