CAN athletes be instant millionaires?
You can, if you are an Indonesian or Filipino gold medallist at the ongoing Asian Games.
It pays really, really well as the hosts are dishing out a whopping cash bounty of 1.5 billion rupiah (RM420,000) for a gold medallist.
On top of that, the winning Indonesian athletes receive a public housing unit and the opportunity to take up jobs in the country’s civil service, or to join the police force or army.
Many Indonesian athletes come from humble backgrounds, so the prospect of housing, cash and a job for life in the civil service is like a dream come true.
Indonesia is hoping to capitalise on its home advantage as the host nation to break into the top 10 in the medal table for the first time since 1990 with at least 14 gold medals in the bag.
And Indonesia did not wait too long before giving out the incentive – in fact, the first to receive a symbolic cheque for 1.5 billion rupiah (RM420,000) is taekwondo exponent Defia Rosmaniar.
She received it from Indonesia’s Sports Minister Imam Nahrawi after winning the nation’s first gold in the women’s individual poomsae on Aug 19.
“The money is pooled from various sponsors. It’s a one-time incentive as we are the hosts for the Asian Games,” said Nahrawi.
Lindswell Kwok delivered the second gold for Indonesia and the pretty wushu exponent even got the keys to a new car from her association.
The Philippines also does not want to be left behind in dangling the carrot for the athletes as now, their woman weightlifter Hidilyn Diaz is smiling all the way to the bank.
The 27-year-old knew she hit the jackpot after lifting her way to the top in the women’s below 53kg category and received a cash windfall of six million pesos (RM460,850) for the gold.
Even Hong Kong are doling out huge sums for their athletes.
Hong Kong athletes will share a HK$20mil (RM10mil) jackpot at the Asiad, thanks to cash incentives being doubled.
And the first recipient of the monetary gain is Jacqueline Siu, who hit the jackpot in her fourth Asian Games outing by winning the equestrian individual dressage for Hong Kong’s first gold medal of the Games.
Shuttler P.V. Sindhu, who is hoping to be India’s first gold medallist at the Games, is already a millionaire as she has been named by Forbes as the seventh best-paid female athlete in the world with a total fortune of US$8.5mil (RM34.92mil) from tournament earnings and endorsements. Her value will be even higher if she smashes her way to gold in Indonesia!
Now, where is Malaysia in all this?
A Malaysian athlete gets to take home RM80,000 for winning a gold – that’s quite small compared to what is received by others.
Perhaps, it is time for the new Youth and Sports Minister Syed Saddiq Syed Abdul Rahman to review the incentive scheme.
The token given to the athletes has not changed since the 1998 Commonwealth Games in Kuala Lumpur – that’s 20 years ago.
But having said that, Malaysian athletes are still considered a privileged lot if compared to Japan and other countries in the western world like Britain and Sweden.
Japan does not offer any cash incentives for gold medallists and woman swimmer Rikako Ikee, who bagged four golds so far, must surely be looking in envy with what is given to others in the Asiad community.
There are also no cash rewards for South Korean athletes but they are given the gift of time as the gold medallists in the Asiad will only have to complete four weeks of basic military training instead of the mandatory two years.
Now, that’s a good incentive.
The writer is also hoping the media will receive a form of incentive – maybe a one-week break after the Games, wink wink!