Monday, June 03, 2013

Sports or studies?

It’s a dilemma every national athlete faces: to focus on their studies or sports. Whichever they choose, it’s not an easy decision – as diver Bryan Nickson Lomas discovered. 

IT MUST have come as a shock to many but Bryan Nickson Lomas’ decision to leave the national diving team was not really a surprise.

Bryan, who has achieved many firsts for Malaysia in his decade-long stint in the national team, has indicated his wish to leave full-time training for some time as he wanted to focus on finishing his Sports Science course at Universiti Malaya.

Does this mean athletes think there is no future beyond their sports career?

Bryan said that he did not want to end up like other athletes who failed to complete their studies even when they are already in their late 20s.

“I want to have something to fall back on and there’s no way I can kickstart my working career without having a university degree in the first place. I discussed it with my parents and they agreed that this was the best decision for me,” said the 22-year-old, who is a three-time Olympian and the first and only male diver so far with a world junior title under his belt.

It is understandable why Bryan mentioned this. Simply put, many athletes do not see a bright future beyond their sports career.

The Sarawak-born Bryan was spot-on and no one can blame him if he thinks like that.
Like many youths his age, he knows the importance of possessing a professional academic qualification in order to land a job in future.

And that’s the reality we are facing in Malaysia. Even a degree is considered the most basic – just take a look at any classified ads for jobs these days.

With the exception of Lee Chong Wei and Nicol David, or unless you have carved your name at the Olympic level like diver Pandelela Rinong, Malaysian athletes just do not see any future in prolonging their stay.

We have seen many people quitting, including talented ones like diver Yeoh Ken Nee, swimmer Chui Lai Kwan and archer Cheng Chu Sian.

Chu Sian and diver Leong Mun Yee are good examples. They are already in their late 20s but have only reached the half-way stage of their four-year degree courses.

It is inevitable that sacrifices be made as there are always centralised trainings for each major assignments. A diver can spend up to two months attending centralised training in China twice a year – thus forcing the diver to defer his or her semester studies.

In the event they do not have any tertiary qualification, the only option for a retired athlete is to take up a coaching job – but the salary is a pittance, to say the least.

The only bright side is that the candidate gets to soak up the relevant experience and treat it as a learning process before moving on to greener pastures.

The relevant parties in sports administration should do more to convince the athletes that they have a secure future.

One way would be by initiating a savings scheme for them or extending the current pension scheme beyond the Olympics. Apply it to the Asian Games and Commonwealth Games as well.

Otherwise, the country will continue to lose more athletes – which is a waste really after the time, money and effort spent grooming them.

The writer is hoping for peace to prevail in Myanmar so that the locals can prepare to host their biggest event – the SEA Games in December – without interruptions. 


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