MALAYSIA Tanah Tumpah Darahku



Tuesday, November 30, 2021

Ice princess is hot – but why the cold shoulder from the ministry?


Malaysia’s little ice princess is on a hot streak in eastern Europe. Sadly, the reception at home has been cool, even icy.

Sree Abiraame, the nine-year-old Malaysian girl making waves in figure skating on ice, has just taken part in competitions in Lithuania and Estonia, both countries with plenty of snow.

And she has wowed the locals, finishing second in her first international meet – the Narva Cup in Estonia on Oct 30-31 – and third in the Tomas Cup in Lithuania on Nov 13.

Then came the icing on the cake – she was the champion in the Talinn Trophy in Estonia on Nov 21. She came out tops despite a fall after she slipped. That goes to show how good the rest of her performance was.

It’s no mean feat. All three competitions involved local athletes who have pretty much seen ice outside their homes all their lives – and all are being groomed for bigger things.

It’s even more impressive considering that, only in August, Sree Abiraame, who is training in Latvia, and her mother were both down with Covid-19.

It takes a special kind of steel to bounce back and achieve what she did – and while there is much ado about her success in news portals and social media, there is a deafening silence from where it matters most.

What has the youth and sport ministry have to say about her success? Where is the applause from the government?

Why the silence? There seems to be little or no appreciation of this Malaysian “Cool Runner”.

Instead of people rushing forward with accolades, there have been snide remarks.

According to her father B Chendran Balakrishnan, there have been those who have brushed off these two Cub tournaments in eastern Europe as “small tournaments” and Sree Abiraame as “too young” to be groomed for the big time.

That’s certainly not true. It is tournaments like these that can get them going. And there is no such thing as being too young. Girls competing against her have been training since they were very young, alongside top skaters and some great coaches.

The Malaysian girl, who will turn 10 on Dec 19, has set her eyes on the 2024 Winter Youth Olympics in South Korea and then the 2026 Winter Olympics in the Italian cities of Milan and Cortina.

She could be our own Tara Lipinski, the 1998 winter Olympics champion and 1997 world champion figure skater. Lipinski started out as a child prodigy when she was just three – and went on to make a huge mark in the world of ice skating.

Sree Abiraame also started when she was three, albeit as a tot who loved to be on the rink at the IOI City Mall in Putrajaya. But she got to where she is with far less than her peers, in terms of outings on ice, top class rivals, coaches – and even money.

FMT first brought up her plight in December last year – her father had dipped into his EPF savings and sold a house and a car to pay for her training. FMT readers and many on social media came to the family’s aid and the money was raised to keep her going.

Even the then sports minister, Reezal Merican Naina Merican, had promised to look into the family’s plight.

However, with the upheavals in the political scene, he is now housing and local government minister and we have a new sports minister in Ahmad Faizal Azumu. The help, though, has not been forthcoming.

Meanwhile, the little princess is fast becoming a Cinderella after midnight. The money her father raised from supportive Malaysians is dwindling.

“She had to wear the same vest and outfit for all three competitions while others had new ones for each,” says Chendren, saying it was too expensive to get new outfits each time.

Still, they need to get new outfits because the old ones become loose and are not conducive for tournaments after a few competitions.

Travelling from country to country and hotel charges for Sree Abiraame, her parents and her coach are also eating into their funds.

Even before the Tomas Cup, she had to get out of the country to train: children under 12 were not allowed to enter ice rinks in Latvia because of Covid-19 restrictions. They also had 8pm-5am curfews.

“We had to travel to Estonia to train and stayed there until Nov 11 before coming back to Riga in Latvia for a day and then travel to Lithuania for the competition. It was amazing that she still finished third,” said the father.

He is hoping that the sports ministry will have another look at his daughter’s case now that she has proven herself by getting on the podium on all three international competitions that she has featured in.

He hopes that even if the government does not help, some multi-national companies could help sponsor his child. “If we can get a few such MNCs to help, no one party has to come up with a huge sum,” he said.

Who knows, those MNCs could get their day at the Olympics, with their brands on the outfit of the little girl.

After all, that frail-looking lass, who wore the same green outfit in all the three tournaments in east Europe, has the heart of a Hulk. - FMT

The views expressed are those of the writer and do not necessarily reflect those of MMKtT.

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