Golden girl warns on plight of former athletes

PUBLISHED : Monday, 23 April, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 23 April, 2007, 12:00am

Multiple Olympic gold medallist Deng Yaping has joined calls for action to ensure the livelihoods of athletes after they retire.

The plight of athletes who dedicated their lives to sporting excellence and national success only to plunge into poverty upon retirement was highlighted earlier this month when former marathon champion Ai Dongmei said she would have to sell her medals for money to feed her family.

Deng, the only table-tennis player to have won four Olympic gold medals, said athletes' security needed to be addressed all over the world.

'I know of a case in which a retired Olympic gold medallist from Africa could not afford to buy a suit in order to accept an invitation to dine with the [International Olympic Committee] president,' said Deng, who was sharing her experiences with juniors at an East Asian Games pins exhibition launch ceremony in Hong Kong yesterday.

'Many athletes end up living in less-than-desirable circumstances after they retire from sport.'

Deng said that as an IOC Athletes' Committee member, it was her duty to help bring the issue to the attention of sporting authorities.

'At the same time, athletes at a certain point of their career should give a lot of thought to how they are going to survive later in life,' said Deng.

'They will become an ordinary member society one day and have to make their own living.'

Now an official with the Beijing Organising Committee for the Olympic Games in charge of the 2008 athletes' village operations, Deng urged her fellow athletes to learn skills or study as early as possible to prepare for life after competition.

Referring to Ai's situation, Deng said this was a special case.

'China provides good security for many retired athletes, with champions often encouraged by offers of free apartments as incentives to perform well,' she said.