Last month, Youth and Sports Minister Datuk Seri Ahmad Faizal Azumu has confirmed that the National Sports Council (NSC) will ax the Podium Programme due to the lack of funding in Budget 2022.
As a result, the number of full-time athletes under NSC will be reduced from 432 to 288 this year. Unfortunately, the 144 national athletes that were being cut off by NSC included those who have made history for Malaysia in highest level competitions.
It was reported that they will only be retaining athletes with the best potential to win medals at the SEA Games in Vietnam, Commonwealth Games in Birmingham, and the Asian Games in Hangzhou this year.
Meanwhile, the downsizing sees some high-profile athletes were getting axed from their full-time contract without much warning.
Malaysia’s first diving world champion Cheong Jun Hoong was one of the casualties and she was being axed due to “lack of quality results since 2018” as well as her age, and a history of knee injuries.
According to NST, Cheong said she was not aware of the decision when the announcement was made and she did not give her comment.
On 4 January, Cheong suddenly announce her retirement, adding that the fact that her contract will not be renewed.
Another elite athlete, national squash player Low Wee Wern, was also among those dropped from the programme at last minute’s notice.
When approached by NST, the former world top 5 said she feels like she’s being used and then tossed away.
“I have given up so much for the country and made so many sacrifices throughout the years… And it’s just really frustrating the way the NSC have done things as they didn’t even have the decency to sit down and have a discussion with me about it,” she said.
“I’m not feeling bitter. There is no point to be bitter, but I just feel disrespected after everything I’ve done. After all, I’ve proven that you can reach the top 5 in the world despite training in Malaysia and not going overseas.”
The future of sports in Malaysia
This downsizing will undoubtedly cause worry for the future of sports in Malaysia, but Ahmad Faizal said this move was necessary to ensure only “quality athletes” continue to get the best support.
He also urged dropped athletes to prove themselves if they want to regain their places in the full-time training programme.
Meanwhile, he said the ministry will continue to work harder to secure additional allocations and funding to bring more athletes back.